5 questions and answers about the end of the state's eviction moratorium | October 8, 2021 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

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News - October 8, 2021

5 questions and answers about the end of the state's eviction moratorium

What you need to know about rent relief, legal options

by Manuela Tobias

The California eviction moratorium ended Sept. 30, but tenants still have some protections and can get help paying the rent.

After more than a year of waiting, landlords in California once again are allowed to take their tenants to court over missed rent payments.

About 724,000 California households are still $2.5 billion behind in rent, according to a recent National Equity Atlas analysis. And some advocates are warning of a wave of evictions.

Some cities and counties have ongoing protections for renters, and the state is also keeping a few guardrails in place — all tied to billions of dollars in rent relief the state is urging landlords and tenants to apply for.

Here's what you need to know about the state's eviction law going forward:

I haven't been able to make full rent payments. Can I be evicted?

Current law shields tenants from eviction if they've paid at least 25% of their rent between Sept. 1, 2020 and Sept. 30, 2021. And tenants cannot be evicted over any rent owed between March 1, 2020, and Aug. 31, 2020 — as long as they respond to their landlord's eviction notice with a signed declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress.

While tenants are shielded from eviction, the full rent between March 2020 and September 2021 is still due, however, and can be collected in small claims court starting Nov. 1.

If you are eligible for rent relief and apply, and your application is either approved or pending, you can use that as a defense in court.

Who is eligible for rent relief?

To qualify for aid, tenants must say, under penalty of perjury, that they have been financially impacted by the pandemic and earn below 80% of the area median income.

You will be asked to show either your 2020 tax returns, your W-2 tax form, current pay stubs or proof of participation in a state or federal subsidy program, such as CalFresh, to prove your income and qualify for help. But even if you don't have any of those documents, you can still apply.

Landlords can only collect relief for periods they didn't receive rent from tenants. Property owners have to provide a lease or rental agreement that includes the renter's name, address, and monthly rent; a rent ledger or statement that shows the unpaid rent balance; and a W-8 or W-9 tax form.

I'm a tenant still waiting for rent relief. Can I be evicted?

If you've applied for rent relief and have yet to hear back, that's a defense against eviction in court. Your application doesn't have to have yet been approved, nor do you have to have the money in hand. And if you're summoned to court, you have to show proof you applied.

"They will get an email confirming receipt of their completed application and case number. That's what they should bring," Heimerich said.

Having paid at least 25% of your rent between September 2020 and September 2021 is also a defense against eviction in court, so make sure you have proof of what you've paid to date.

I got a 3-day 'pay or quit' notice from my landlord. Now what?

Under current law, after giving you a 3-day notice to "pay or quit" — the first step in the eviction process — the landlord will have to wait 20 business days before taking you to court.

It's a defense in court if you tell your landlord you applied for rent relief within 15 business days of receiving a 3-day notice. You will also have to give your landlord a signed declaration of COVID-19 related financial distress within 15 business days of receiving a 3-day notice.

The court will ask landlords, under penalty of perjury, whether they also applied for rental assistance. The landlord will only be allowed to move forward with the case if their application was denied.

If 20 days pass, and you did not submit your rent relief application, or didn't notify your landlord you applied, they will also be able to move forward with the eviction process, according to Cathal Conneely, a spokesperson for the Judicial Council of California.

If you are served an unlawful detainer, or an eviction notice, don't leave your home right away, advocates urge. In California, your landlord can't physically kick you out until the court process is complete; only a sheriff's department can lock you out.

There are plenty of free legal services to help walk you through the court process, or even represent you. Tenants Together, an advocacy organization, has a list of local resources, as does the state. You can also text "Rent" to 211-211 for help from United Way, a nonprofit that helps distribute rent relief.

What reasons can a landlord evict for, other than nonpayment of rent?

Since the start of the state's eviction protections, evictions over issues unrelated to rent payments have been ongoing. A CalMatters analysis found at least 10,000 through March 2021. Those reasons include:

The landlord or their family was moving into the property, or selling the property to a person who intended to move in.

A landlord had to demolish or do a substantial remodeling because the unit posed a health and safety threat.

The tenant committed a crime or a criminal threat on the property.

The tenant violated the lease by subletting the property, causing a nuisance or staying after the lease expired.

Manuela Tobias reports for CalMatters, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California's policies and politics.

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