As the pandemic winds down, LA County is facing a new crisis: an eviction crisis. Because the current limited pandemic-era tenant protections only apply to rent payments due through June 30, as many 120,000 households in LA County will soon be vulnerable to eviction – a disproportionate percentage of which are home to Black and Latinx Angelenos. While there are public resources that tenants and landlords can apply for to pay off rent arrears, and limited funds available to tenants for future rent payments, these resources won’t be enough to make sure all tenants are safe from eviction and the consequences of rent they weren’t able to pay.
If you think this all sounds grim, you’re not wrong. But there are concrete steps you can take right now to protect yourself from eviction (or to at least try to protect yourself from eviction). This is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice, which may also be available to struggling tenants through the county’s portal (stayhousedla.org), legal aid organizations and tenant unions. While taking these steps doesn’t guarantee you won’t face eviction (which is shitty), you deserve to know your rights and the resources you have at your disposal as a tenant in Los Angeles.
Before we dig in, you should know that these protections are confusing, and if you’ve had trouble navigating them that’s not your fault. These protections have shifted several times over the course of the pandemic, and the federal government, the state, the county, and the city each have their own set of rules.
First, let’s take a look at the various protections in place. Then we’ll lay out the steps you can take to try and put yourself in the best position to avoid or fight eviction. You’re also welcome to skip straight to that section if the ins and outs of the legal jargon don’t interest you.
The most important thing to understand about all of these protections is that they do not prevent eviction outright, and they don’t work automatically, but rather are designed to help tenants fight against an unlawful eviction should they get a notice or be taken to court.
It’s also crucial that you understand what “income loss due to COVID” means, given that the majority of these protections only apply if you’ve experienced such an income loss. You have suffered income loss due to COVID if any of the following apply to you:
- Loss of income due to workplace closure or reduced hours due to COVID-19
- Loss of income or increased child care expenditures due to school closures
- Health care expenditures stemming from COVID-19 infection of the tenant or a member of the tenant’s household who is ill with COVID-19
- Reasonable expenditures stemming from government ordered emergency measures
Now, let’s break down the different levels of protection from national to local.
The federal government’s protections are not very strong, but they did just get extended through June 30, 2021. There’s little that isn’t also covered by the state, but if you’re interested in knowing more you can read about it here.
California has slightly better protections which were updated in January 2021 with the passage of SB91. This bill:
- Pauses evictions for tenants who declare that they are unable to pay all or part of their rent due to COVID-related reasons.
- Prohibits the selling or assigning of rental debt that was accrued between March 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021 (aka the end of the protections).
- Makes it so that any COVID-related debt cannot be used against you by property owners or other housing providers as a negative factor when evaluating a housing application.
- Prohibits landlords from charging late fees or increasing rent or fees for tenants who attest to COVID-19-related financial distress.
- Protects all tenants from eviction for non-payment for COVID-related reasons from March 1, 2020, through August 31, 2020 (even if no rent was paid for these months).
- Protects tenants who couldn’t pay rent due to COVID-related reasons from September 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021, if they pay at least 25% of the missing rent from that time period on or before June 30 (this includes any payments already made). Tenants are still required to pay off all of their back rent, but the 75% remaining is converted into consumer debt. Landlords can sue you in small claims court if that debt is not paid, but they can’t evict you for it.
- Does not prohibit “at-fault” evictions. An at-fault eviction means that, according to the landlord, the tenant is in breach of their lease. For more info on what constitutes an at-fault vs no-fault eviction, check out page 32 of the LA Tenants Union Handbook.
- Requires landlords to notify their tenants regarding the state protections and how to use them.
- Requires landlords to give a 15-day advance notice to “pay rent or quit,” as opposed to the usual three-day requirement for advance notice. Holidays and weekends aren’t included. Tenants can respond to these eviction notices with the declaration of income loss to be protected from eviction. The landlord is required to provide a blank copy of the declaration.
- Resumes regular monthly rent for the month of July 2021 without protection. Starting August 1, 2021 tenants will be responsible to start paying off back rent, but the state has a rental relief program in place to help, and landlords who refuse that help may not be allowed by a judge to collect all the back rent in court. All back rent is due by August 1, 2022, unless your city has an otherwise-stated extended date (this is a crucial difference between the state and city protections, which we will unpack shortly).
LA County protections apply to anyone who lives in a city within the county that does not have its own protections, as well as unincorporated county areas. For more details and to see if your area is protected under county rules, go to the county website here. Per the county protections:
- You cannot be evicted for nonpayment of rent due to COVID-19 related financial hardship
- You cannot be evicted for no-fault reasons such as remodels or demolition of property, COVID-19 related violations of your lease relating to unauthorized occupants or pets, nuisance, or denying entry to a landlord
- Landlords may still file for eviction, but during the ongoing state of emergency and for 90 days after it is lifted, new eviction cases cannot proceed except where a court states that eviction is required to uphold public health or safety.
As far as the protections afforded by the City of Los Angeles, there are a few key differences from the State’s bill that are worth taking note of, as they provide additional protection:
- If you live in the City of LA and have declared financial impact from COVID, you are not responsible for any of your missed rent before June 30, 2021. You are not even required to have paid 25% of your total rent.
- However, if you are able to pay 25% of your back rent by June 30, 2021, then your landlord can never evict you for failing to pay the remaining balance (though, like at the state level, they can try to sue you for it).
- You have 12 months from the day the state of emergency is lifted to pay off your back rent. Under the current plan that means you have until June 30, 2022.
- Like the county protections, the city protects you from eviction for no-fault reasons such as remodels or demolition of property, COVID-19 related violations of your lease relating to unauthorized occupants or pets, nuisance, or denying entry to a landlord.
- Some tenants may be eligible for emergency renters’ assistance. To check if you qualify, click here.
Normal rent without these protections will be due starting August 1, 2021.
What you can do:
With these protections in mind, there are a handful of concrete steps you can take to put yourself in the best position possible to avoid or fight eviction.
- DO NOT SELF-EVICT. If you remember nothing else from this list, remember this. Landlords can be sneaky and manipulative and may try to scare you into moving out of your apartment without going through any official eviction proceedings. They’re relying on you not knowing your rights in order to avoid a drawn-out, costly, and potentially unfruitful eviction. Don’t make it easy for them to screw you over! If you receive any suspicious messages or letters from your landlord that are pressuring you to self-evict, seek legal guidance or reach out to a tenants rights organization for help before taking any action (more on that below).
- DECLARE COVID-19 FINANCIAL IMPACT. If you haven’t done so already, send your landlord a message telling them that your finances have been impacted by COVID-19 and you will be unable to pay your rent. Here’s a link to a Declaration Form you can use from the organization Stay Housed LA. You don’t need to include proof of financial impact from COVID, but if you do have documentation that shows reduced hours or proof of being laid off, it may be useful to include those too. Ideally you would send this declaration prior to the first missed or incomplete rent and send a new one for each month after. Keep a paper trail of this communication so that you can demonstrate when the message was sent and that it was received by your landlord. If you send this message in the mail make sure you get a delivery confirmation receipt so your landlord can’t pretend they never received it.
- PAY 25% OF OWED RENT IF YOU CAN. If you don’t live in the city of LA, 25% of your back rent will be due on or before June 30, 2021. If you live within the city, you don’t have to pay 25% by that date, but if you can pay 25% you put yourself in a much better position because it ensures that your landlord cannot evict you for the remaining 75%, no matter how long it takes you to pay it (though they can still try to sue you for it). This 25% can be paid monthly or in one lump sum. If you don’t pay 25% down by June 30, 2021 then you are at increased risk of eviction over the next year as your landlord will have more leeway with filing for eviction. Regardless of whether you live within city limits, all back rent will be due by June 30, 2022. The main difference between the city and the state regulations is that the state requires you to pay off at least 25% of that rent on or before June 30, 2021, whereas the city does not.
- KEEP A PAPER TRAIL. Whether you’re sending in a declaration of financial impact or paying off part of your back rent, you must keep a paper trail. If your landlord tries to evict you, this record of your compliance will be your proof in court that you did as you were supposed to. That may mean keeping a dated email or text chain with your landlord where you ask them to confirm receipt of your declaration and payment, or if you are sending anything in the mail that you are holding on to confirmations of receipt. Save all the evidence you can that you’ve been playing by the rules.
- APPLY FOR THE EMERGENCY RENTAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAM. Not everyone will be eligible for this step, but it’s worth a shot. You qualify for ERAP if “one or more individuals within your household have qualified for unemployment benefits or experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced other financial hardship, directly or indirectly, due to the COVID-19 outbreak; and the household income is at or below 50% of the area median income (AMI).” Eligible applicants are chosen through a random selection process. If you’re selected they may pay up to 80% of your past-due rent for the period of April 1, 2020, through March 31, 2021, but only if your landlord agrees to waive the remaining 20%. If your landlord does not agree, they can pay 25% of your unpaid rent as well as up to 25% of your upcoming rent for 3 months. To find out if you qualify and to submit your application, click here.
- RESPOND TO SUMMONS. Unfortunately, even if you do everything right your landlord can still try to evict you. If you receive a court summons it means your landlord has filed an eviction case against you and you have five days to respond. If you don’t respond within five days you may automatically lose your court case and be evicted. So again, you must respond within five days. Responding to the summons means filling out this form and turning in a copy to both the court and to the address listed by your landlord (which will likely be your landlord’s lawyer’s office). For more information on this process, click here. But keep in mind that this can all be very confusing and is not something you should navigate yourself. You will absolutely want to either take the form directly to the courthouse to ask for assistance or contact a lawyer to advise you on filling it out. And beyond just filling out the form, having a lawyer to guide you through the entire process is crucial. You do not want to do this on your own and risk making a mistake. Here are some resources for finding legal counsel:
- LEAN ON YOUR COMMUNITY. At the end of the day, you can take all the above steps and your landlord still may try to evict you. They may try to find non-COVID-related reasons to justify an eviction, they may serve you a five-day summons without the right to. They may try to manipulate you into self-evicting or they might make your living conditions so terrible you want to leave. When it comes to that point, you’ll want the support of your neighbors — many of whom may be facing the same hardships you are. Don’t forget there is strength in numbers, so consider joining a tenants union or organizing your building. It’s much easier to fight for better conditions as a collective than it is as an individual. Check out the Los Angeles Tenants Union (LATU) for more on how to join existing locals or unionize your own building and follow them on Twitter to stay updated on tenants rights in the city.
Throughout the pandemic many of these protections and timelines have shifted, and they may shift again before it’s over. We will update this piece as things change to reflect the most recent legislation. In the meantime, do what you can to put yourself in the safest position possible and let your friends and neighbors know their rights too so you can support each other. We live in a society where tenants rights too often take a backseat to landlords’ profits, and the current state of protections unfortunately reflects that reality. It shouldn’t be like this. It shouldn’t be this hard. But the more we know our rights and the more we band together, the more power we have.