Hours before California's eviction ban was set to expire, state legislators approved a bill Monday that will extend temporary — and limited — protections to tenants who can't pay their rent because of pandemic-related hardships.
After several days of negotiations, both houses of the state Legislature voted Aug. 31 to approve Assembly Bill 3088. The bill creates a "transition period" between Sept. 1 and Jan. 31, during which time tenants who attest to experiencing financial hardships are required to pay 25% of their rent to qualify for eviction protections.
The law also expands small claims court jurisdiction to allow landlords to recover deferred rent starting in March and extends anti-foreclosure protections to small landlords.
The bill, which Gov. Gavin Newsom negotiated with state legislators and apartment builders late last week, cleared the Senate Monday afternoon by a 33-2 vote, with Sens. Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, and Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, dissenting and five other senators abstaining. Later in the evening, just two hours before the eviction moratorium was set to expire, the Assembly approved the bill by a 56-8 vote.
In a statement Monday, Newsom lauded the law for both protecting tenants from evictions and for helping to keep homeowners out of foreclosure as a result of economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"California is stepping up to protect those most at-risk because of COVID-related nonpayment, but it’s just a bridge to a more permanent solution once the federal government finally recognizes its role in stabilizing the housing market," Newsom said.
Authored by Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, the bill is a marked departure from his prior proposal to extend eviction protections. That bill, known as AB 1436, would have prohibited eviction of tenants who couldn't pay rent because of pandemic-related hardships either until April 2021 or until 90 days after the state lifts its state of emergency, whichever date is earlier.
Supporters of AB 3088 acknowledged Monday that the bill is a stop-gap measure and that legislators will need to do far more to support both tenants and landlords in their next session. The choice, they said, was taking this limited step or doing nothing at all and risking mass evictions when current eviction protections expire.
The move took on particular urgency on Aug. 13, when the Judicial Council of California voted to end its ban on eviction proceedings, effective midnight on Sept. 1. Chiu called the bill an "imperfect but necessary solution to an enormous crisis."
"If we don't act by midnight tonight, any tenant who'd been unable to pay any and all unpaid rent, would immediately have to pay that rent back or be subject to an eviction," Chiu said Monday evening, less than three hours before the moratorium's expiration. "A wave of massive eviction would be catastrophic — catastrophic for homelessness and COVID-19 spread. It would turn this recession into a Great Depression."
Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, made a similar point earlier in the day, in advocating for the bill on the Senate floor. Caballero said the legislators need to "establish new protections to get us through the next few months to prevent a wave of mass evictions in the middle of a public health emergency with no clear end in sight."
"The unprecedented job loss experienced by tenants have left many landlords struggling to cover the rents and responsibilities they have," Caballero said. "This burden is especially hard for small mom-and-pop landlords who depend on rental income to cover their living expenses."
Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, called the bill "a six-month bridge for both tenants and landlords."
"It's a compromise that the legislators and stakeholders can support and it will keep both tenants and landlords viable and afloat for the next six months," Bradford said.
While the compromise easily cleared the Legislature, it faced some critics from both sides of the political spectrum. Bates voted against it, saying it doesn't offer enough protections for landlords and does not go far enough in requiring tenants to provide proof of hardship. Tenant advocates, including the San Francisco-based group Tenants Together, argued that the new bill is both too weak and too complex.
The group argued that the bill's "complex provisions will make the legislation inaccessible to renters and the public." Lupe Arreola, executive director of Tenants Together, said in a statement that Newsom's compromise with the legislators "passes the low bar of it being better than nothing."
"If he cannot convince the legislature to pass a decent proposal, he must step up and use his executive power to enact a true eviction moratorium before evictions resume Sept. 1. California's 18 million renters are counting on him."
The California Apartment Association, meanwhile, lauded the new bill, which it characterized as a major improvement over AB 1436. The Sacramento-based group, which represents owners of rental properties, praised legislators for advancing legislation that includes "protections for tenants truly harmed by COVID, while ensuring that owners can evict nuisance tenants and residents who can afford to pay rent but choose to game the system instead," according to a statement from Tom Bannon, CEO of the group.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.