Can You Evict a Tenant in California During COVID-19?

 

During these unprecedented times, and more so than ever before in modern history, the ability of a landlord to evict a tenant in the State of California is under siege. Even prior to COVID-19, California passed statewide rent control and imposed limits on rent increases under AB1482, which took effect on January 1, 2020, with limited exceptions. Now, with COVID-19, the State of California and many local jurisdictions have taken eviction restrictions to entirely new levels. The government is taking swift action to protect renters, while doing little to nothing to help landlords. This article is an update to a previous article that was published on March 19, 2020, called “Covid-19 and Evictions in California,” and offers an update into California evictions during COVID-19, with a particular emphasis on Los Angeles City, Los Angeles County, and Santa Clarita. Note that the laws continue to change rapidly, so landlords should consult legal counsel prior to taking any action, as these laws are subject to continual change. No legal advice is hereby given.

California Eviction Moratorium

Misconceptions abound with respect to the current status of evictions statewide and in many local jurisdictions. On April 6, 2020, the Judicial Council of California in effect banned almost all evictions from moving forward (more on that below).

On March 27, 2020, Governor Newsom signed Executive Order N-37-20 [PDF], which placed certain restrictions on evictions, but did not place a blanket eviction moratorium on all evictions.

Highlights of the Order include:

  • An extension of time for defendants (tenants) to respond to an unlawful detainer complaint. Under the Order, tenants shall have 60 days after being served with an eviction complaint that is based on non-payment of rent, to respond to the complaint, so long as the tenant satisfies the following:
  • 1. The tenant previously paid rent to the landlord.
  • 2. The tenant notifies the landlord in writing before the rent is due, or within 7 days after the rent is due, that the tenant needs to delay all or some payment of rent because of an inability to pay the full amount due to reasons related to COVID-19.
  • 3. The tenant must retain verifiable documentation to support their claim that they are unable to pay due to COVID-19. The documentation should be provided to the landlord no later than the time when the past-due rent is due.
  • The tenant is ultimately responsible for paying rent.
  • The sheriff is not permitted to execute on a Writ of Possession while the Order is in effect, so long as the eviction was due to non-payment of rent and the tenant satisfies the notice requirements discussed above. Nothing in the Order prohibits the sheriff from executing on a Writ of Possession when the eviction did not pertain to non-payment of rent, or when the tenant failed to notify the landlord that the tenant didn’t pay due to an issue related to COVID-19.
  • Nothing in the Order prohibits a landlord from initiating an unlawful detainer action against a tenant.
  • If an eviction is based on any other reason, including no-fault evictions, the eviction can move forward now.
  • The Order is in effect until May 31, 2020.

Update 4/7/2020: On April 6, 2020, the Judicial Council of California adopted a temporary emergency rule [PDF] that halts most evictions in California during the emergency period, and for a period of 90 days after the emergency period ends. Under the new rule, a court may not issue a summons on a complaint (initiate an eviction case), nor can the court enter a default or default judgment against a tenant in most cases, and the court will extend trial dates in eviction cases. There are exceptions to these rules only for public health and safety reasons. Essentially, this new rule by the Judicial Council of California means almost all evictions are banned in California during the COVID-19 emergency. More on this new temporary rule banning evictions in California can be found here.

City of Los Angeles Eviction Moratorium

In an Order [PDF] dated March 15, 2020, Garcetti ordered that “no landlord shall evict a residential tenant in the City of Los Angeles during this local emergency period if the tenant is able to show an inability to pay rent due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic.” The Order gave impacted tenants up to six months following the expiration of the order to repay the past-due rent.

Then, in an Order [PDF] dated March 17, 2020, Mr. Garcetti broadened his eviction moratorium to include commercial tenancies “if the tenant is able to show an inability to pay rent due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic.” The rent must ultimately be paid to the landlord, and the tenant would have up to three months following the expiration of the order to repay the past-due rent.

On March 23, 2020, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti issued an Order [PDF] that is in effect immediately until April 19, 2020. The Order states that tenants living within the City of LA may not be evicted during the emergency period if the eviction is a “no-fault eviction” and any member of the household is ill, in isolation, or under quarantine. The Order is retroactive to March 4, 2020. The Order makes clear that the tenant is still responsible for ultimately paying rent. The Order also prohibits Ellis Act evictions while the order is in effect and until 60 days after expiration of the Order.

On March 27, 2020, the Los Angeles City Council is seeking to go further than the Mayor, with an ordinance [PDF] that would be retroactive to March 4, 2020. The ordinance would prohibit landlords from evicting residential tenants for non-payment if the tenant is unable to pay rent due to COVID-19. While tenants are still responsible for ultimately paying the past-due rent, they would have up to twelve months (1 year!) following the expiration of the emergency period to repay past-due rent. The city ordinance would also outlaw no-fault evictions during the emergency period. Further, landlords would be unable to evict a tenant during the emergency period for the at-fault reason of allowing unauthorized occupants, pets, or nuisances related to COVID-19. Owners would be unable to charge interest or a late fee, and landlords would be required to give written notice of these protections to the tenant within 30 days of its effective date. The ordinance would also prohibit commercial evictions, if the reason for the eviction is non-payment of rent and the reason for the non-payment is related to COVID-19. Commercial tenants would need to repay the past-due rent within three months following the expiration of the emergency period. Commercial landlords would also be prohibited from charging interest or a late fee.

On March 30, 2020, Garcetti issued an Order [PDF] that halts rent increases on occupied rental units that are subject to the LA Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO). This means, landlords who own properties subject to the RSO are not permitted to raise rents through sixty days after expiration of the emergency period.

Update 3/31/2020: The Mayor signed the new ordinance [PDF] that the City Council discussed on March 27, 2020.

Update 4/22/2020: During their meeting on April 22, 2020, the LA City Council failed to approve additional eviction restrictions and tenant protections, except for agreeing to draft an ordinance freezing rent increases on RSO properties for almost a year. Read more here.

Update 4/30/2020: During their meeting on April 29, 2020, the LA City Council voted to require landlords to use only the tenant notification form provided by HCIDLA. This form provides tenants with a notice of their rights during COVID-19. Additionally, the Council voted to instruct the HCIDLA to mail all residential rental property owners and tenants in HCIDLA’s database of their housing rights and responsibilities during the COVID-19 local emergency period.

Update 5/7/2020: The assault on landlords continues without remission! During their meeting on May 6, 2020, the LA City Council decided to give tenants a private right of action allowing tenants to sue landlords who violate LA’s residential tenant protection ordinance, prohibit landlords from trying to take tenants’ stimulus money, and require landlords to use only the tenant notice form provided by HCIDLA. The Council voted to establish their position to suspend Costa Hawkins. LA also voted to temporarily prohibit rent increases for units subject to the RSO. Read more here.

Update 5/13/2020: The LA City Ordinance 186606 has been posted. Even if landlords have previously given their tenants a notice of tenant rights, the new ordinance requires that landlords give the revised notice to their tenants, which can be downloaded here. This notice will need to be given to all tenants even after the local emergency period expires, for 12 months post-emergency, whenever an owner serves a notice to pay rent or quit, a notice to terminate a residential tenancy, a notice to perform covenant or quit, or any eviction notice. See section 49.99.2(E) of the ordinance. In addition, section 49.99.7 provides the language that gives tenants a private right of action to sue a landlord if a landlord violates the temporary emergency tenant protections. Before a tenant can commence an action against a landlord, the tenant must provide written notice to the owner of the alleged violation and give the owner 15 days to cure the alleged violation.

County of Los Angeles Eviction Moratorium

The county of Los Angeles imposed restrictions on landlords. The county eviction moratorium applies in unincorporated parts of Los Angeles county. If the rental property is located in an unincorporated part of the county, then the county has jurisdiction.

The LA County eviction moratorium is retroactive to March 4, 2020, and remains in effect through May 31, 2020. The text of the moratorium [PDF] orders a “temporary moratorium on evictions for non-payment of rent by residential or commercial tenants impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.” A landlord may not evict a residential or commercial tenant under the order for non-payment of rent or for late charges if the tenant “demonstrates an inability to pay rent and/or related charges” due to COVID-19. The tenant needs to notify the landlord within 7 days after the rent due date, informing the landlord that the tenant is unable to pay. Tenants will have up to six months following the expiration of the order to pay the past-due rent to the landlord. The order encourages both landlords and tenants to work together to establish a payment plan.

In addition to non-payment issues caused by COVID-19, the LA county eviction moratorium prohibits “no-fault” evictions unless the reason for the eviction is due to health and safety reasons.

The California Apartment Association prepared a brochure on the LA County Eviction Moratorium.

Update 4/7/2020: On March 31, 2020, LA County placed a temporary rent freeze on rent stabilized units in the unincorporated parts of LA County. The temporary rent freeze means that owners of multi-family housing properties built before February 1995 in unincorporated Los Angeles County may not increase the rental cost for their tenants until May 31, 2020, unless extended.

Update 4/17/2020: On April 14, 2020, the LA County Board of Supervisors went even further, enhancing the already broad tenant protections during the COVID-19 emergency period. In their ordinance [PDF], the Board of Supervisors decided to 1) include an eviction moratorium for non-payment of space rent for mobilehome owners, 2) expand the eviction restrictions within LA county to include the entire county except for areas that already have their own eviction moratorium, 3) prohibit rent increases for residential units and mobilehome owners, 4) prohibit landlords from charging interest and late fees during the moratorium, 5) extend the repayment period post-moratorium to 12 months instead of the previous 6 months, 6) increase the eviction ban so that a landlord cannot evict due to unauthorized occupants, pets or nuisance related to COVID-19, 7) allow a tenant to self-certify that the reason they cannot pay is due to COVID-19 (instead of requiring the tenant to obtain documentation); 8) prohibit landlords from harassing or intimidating tenants. For more information on these restrictions, this this LA county page.

Update 5/12/2020: The LA County Board of Supervisors decided to extend the eviction moratorium until at least June 30, 2020. The Supervisors will reevaluate every 30 days to decide whether to extend the moratorium further. The Supervisors are investigating whether unpaid rent due to COVID-19 can be classified as consumer debt. For more information, view the Statement of Proceedings [PDF].

Santa Clarita Eviction Moratorium

Nothing yet, but the city of Santa Clarita is considering an eviction moratorium.

Update 3/31/2020: Santa Clarita passed an eviction moratorium that includes non-payment of rent cases where the tenant notifies the landlord within seven days after the rent is due that the reason for the non-payment is due to COVID-19. The moratorium is in effect until May 31, 2020, unless extended. The tenant has up to 6 months after the emergency period to pay the past-due rent to the landlord. The landlord may not impose late fees. Some no-fault evictions are also included. The ordinance applies to both residential and commercial tenants.

Update 5/26/2020: The City Council voted on 5/26/2020 to extend the eviction moratorium through June 30, 2020, and to provide tenants with an extended repayment period.

Other California Locations

Many other cities and counties have already enacted renter protections, or are contemplating enacting renter protections. Before any landlord decides to begin eviction proceedings in any of the locations discussed herein or in any other location throughout California, be sure to consult with legal counsel to receive up-to-date information related to your possible case.

Courts Delay Unlawful Detainer Proceedings

Several courts throughout California are delaying eviction proceedings in light of COVID-19. The Los Angeles Superior Court and the Ventura Superior Court is highlighted below.

  • Los Angeles Superior Court – In a March 17, 2020 General Order [PDF] signed by Presiding Judge Kevin C. Brazile, the court declared March 17, 2020 to April 16, 2020 as a holiday for purposes of computing time under CCP 1167 (five-day period within which defendant must respond to a complaint in unlawful detainer action). Two days later, another General Order dated March 19, 2020 [PDF] was issued. The March 19 order declared that all unlawful detainer (eviction) cases would be continued. Then, another General Order dated March 23, 2020 [PDF] was signed. The March 23 order suspended all unlawful detainer trials until further notice. Update 5/14/2020: Court remains closed for the most part until June 10, 2020. All trials, including unlawful detainer (eviction) trials, will be scheduled for a date after June 22, 2020. The clerk’s office will reopen on June 15. See new court release here.
  • Ventura Superior Court – The court will maintain only limited operations through April 17, 2020 [PDF]. The clerks office will remain closed to the public during this time period. In an Amended Administrative Order No. 20.05 dated March 20, 2020 [PDF], all unlawful detainer matters currently on calendar are suspended for 60 days and will be continued by the court. Update 5/12/2020: The court will remain mostly closed through June 9, 2020.

So, Can a Landlord Evict a Tenant During COVID-19?

Probably not (see below update dated 4/7/2020).

Landlords must consult local jurisdictions to see if a more restrictive eviction moratorium is in effect. If there is no local moratorium in effect, then all California landlords will be limited by California’s eviction restrictions, which are currently set to expire on May 31, 2020. Landlords wanting to evict for non-payment of rent should be particularly careful and should place a note on their 3 day notice, informing the tenant to contact the landlord in writing within 7 days if the reason for the non-payment is due to COVID-19. Tenants should obtain and keep good records to prove that the reason for non-payment was due to COVID-19, and should be prepared to provide such proof to the landlord and the court.

Regardless of whether or not a local jurisdiction has enacted a more restrictive moratorium than what the State of California has imposed, landlords will encounter substantial eviction delays and court backlogs during the era of COVID-19.

Update 4/7/2020: On April 6, 2020, the Judicial Council of California banned most evictions from moving forward during the COVID-19 emergency period except for cases dealing with public health or safety.

To be continued…

Every effort has been made to provide accurate information as of March 30, 2020. The eviction laws are changing extremely rapidly. Landlords should not rely solely on the information contained herein and should consult legal counsel before making any decisions on how (and if) to proceed with an eviction. An effort will be made to provide updates to eviction laws on both this California eviction blog and on Twitter, so please bookmark this blog and follow us on Twitter. Landlords seeking a consultation can find more information on the Law Office of David Piotrowski’s contact page. Stay safe everyone!

COVID-19 Landlord Forms

Update 4/8/2020: We have created several forms for landlords to use during COVID-19. View our library of Covid-19 Landlord and Tenant Forms for California.

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