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County passes renter protections, city council preps to fill gaps

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

Last week the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a number of measures that will protect the county’s many renters during the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

The board passed eviction legislation that protects both residential and commercial tenants in all unincorporated areas in the county. Their action covers all cities, including Claremont, that do not have an eviction moratorium order in place.

The new eviction ban extends to May 31 an earlier order passed on March 4. Under the new rules, landlords cannot evict someone for non-payment of rent, however, tenants would still be required to pay back rent once the ban is lifted. It also prohibits other “no fault” evictions unless necessary for health or safety reasons.

“Tenants must notify their landlord within seven days after their rent is due, unless extenuating circumstances exist, that they are unable to pay due to a loss of income related to COVID-19. Tenants will have 12 months following the end of the moratorium period to pay back any amount due,” the order read.

At the same meeting supervisors unanimously approved a plan called the Emergency Rent Assistance Program that would provide grants to renters who have lost significant income because of the pandemic. The program could provide up to $1,000 per month for three months to renters who qualify for the yet to be created program.

The money will be allocated from the county’s second share of the Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) with additional funding from philanthropic sources. Details about who would qualify for the rental assistance will be released when the plan is finalized.

The supervisors expanded a rent increase freeze that previously only applied to certain units in the county to cover all residential units including space rental for mobile home owners. The freeze applies retroactively to cover the entire moratorium period from March 4 to May 31, but could be extended with further action from the county.

The order also prohibits a landlord from imposing any new pass-through costs or charging interest and late fees for unpaid rent during the moratorium period.

“As we fight the spread of this virus and do everything we can to save lives, this crisis has devastated families who were already living on the brink of poverty,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a statement. “The eviction moratorium we have in place has provided some relief, but many families are going to struggle to pay back the rent they owe after this crisis is over. Rent assistance will help keep people in their homes and lessen some of the long-term economic damage this pandemic will have on families.”

The county’s move preempted a vote by the Claremont City Council last Tuesday that, if passed, would have enacted an eviction ban in Claremont.

Councilmember Jed Leano pulled the local eviction ban from the agenda because language in the county legislation states that cities enacting their own programs are exempt from the county protections. Mr. Leano was concerned that a citywide moratorium might disqualify Claremont residents from applying for county aid, including the rental relief program.

In addition, the county eviction ban includes greater benefits, such as a longer time to repay back rent.

During the council meeting Mayor Larry Schroeder appointed Mr. Leano and Councilmember Corey Calaycay to an ad hoc committee to investigate the feasibility of a supplemental rental relief program in Claremont.

During their first meeting Mr. Leano and Mr. Calaycay outlined three objectives for staff to research: identify all available funding sources; investigate county programs including eligibility criteria; and identify gaps in the county program that the city can fill with its own program.

The county said it would take 30 days following the April 14 meeting to come up with a plan for the rental assistance program. At that point Mr. Leano said the city will examine the plan to see whether there are deficiencies that the city could fill with its supplemental plan.

“If that funding is allocated similarly to Measure H and other homelessness initiative funds, it might go from Council of Governments to cities directly, but that is still being developed and will be reported back to supervisors in 30 days,” Mr. Leano wrote on social media.

The only guaranteed funding for Claremont’s rental assistance program is $100,000 from the Housing Asset Fund, which the council approved late last year to help people facing eviction before the state’s rent control law went into affect on January 1.

No one applied for relief under that program, so now that money, which is left over from redevelopment agency funds and must be used for low-income housing, can be applied to the new program.

“That is why we want to wait and see the details on the county’s program and then see how Claremont can fill any gaps,” Mr. Leano said. “The goal is to keep people housed and keep business in place.”

Mr. Leano said the goal for Claremont’s relief fund would be to include money for local businesses that had to shut their doors due to the stay-at-home order from the state.

Because of the high cost of housing in Southern California, an eviction moratorium with a repayment requirement, even if it is over a 12-month period, would likely result in a wave of tenants who fall behind on the repayments as soon as the moratorium is lifted.

At the same time, many local landlords are small businesses with only a handful of units. Those landlords have to pay expenses related to their properties including maintenance, insurance, property taxes, utilities and possibly a mortgage. That is why Mr. Leano is focused on helping the city secure the largest amount of relief funding possible—the rationale being that the most effective way to help Claremont’s tenants and property owners at the same time is to ensure that rent can be paid each month.

“We want to not only give stability and comfort to our renters but give that same stability to our small landlords because if we can’t help them, we have done nothing for our tenants,” Mr. Leano said.

“We know the county’s eviction moratorium helps protect renters against homelessness now, but it won’t help them once past-due rent needs to be paid back,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, co-author of the rent assistance motion, said in a statement. “This Emergency Rental Assistance Program can provide sorely needed support to cost-burdened households while they are earning little or no income as a result of the pandemic.”

On his personal Facebook page, Mr. Leano expressed his gratitude to Claremonters for their understanding.

“I’m overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from residents,” Mr. Leano wrote. “To all who emailed, my deepest thanks. Now let’s get to work on rental relief funding! We need to ensure housing stability and make our landlords whole. [I’m] ready to collaborate with my council colleagues to develop a rental assistance program that achieves both.”

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