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Monday, September 28, 2020
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News + Politics Housing Newsom, Chiu agree on bill that could lead to widespread evictions

Newsom, Chiu agree on bill that could lead to widespread evictions

The landlords and banks will be fine; not so much the renters. But tenants say it's better than nothing.

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Assemblymember David Chiu has reached a compromise with Gov. Gavin Newsom and the big landlord groups on a relatively limited bill to protect renters from evictions during the COVID pandemic.

The measure is nothing like the original bill he had introduced; the governor didn’t even try to salvage that measure and instead has produced a new one, AB 3088, which will go before the Assembly and the Senate Monday before the Legislature adjourns.

The governor made sure that the real-estate and banking industries were bettor off than the tenants.

It will need a two-thirds majority in both houses to become law.

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez at KQED has a good, detailed report on what the law does and doesn’t do. Put simply, it provides limited protections for tenants, allows landlords an expanded ability to collect back rent, and could lead to vast numbers of evictions this fall.

It is, tenant advocates agree, better than nothing. At least the law would allow renters to avoid eviction if they pay at least 25 percent of the rent that’s due between now and Feb. 1, 2021.

But for a lot of people who are out of work and who have lost their federal unemployment benefits, 25 percent is still too much rent.

From the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment:

With just a couple days left before the courts reopen, and the “eviction cliff” that threatens to displace roughly 4 million disproportionately Poor, Black and Latinx Californians begins, Governor Newsom’s negotiations produce AB 3088, a weak patchwork deal that will allow many evictions to start September 2nd with others sure to ramp up in the coming months. And, with the exception of existing laws, the deal prevents cities and counties from passing stronger non-payment of rent related eviction protections or moratoriums until Feb 2021.

While the governor has issued a statewide stay at home order, the deal will allow Sheriff’s deputies to forcibly evict tenants from their shelter, all while the country reckons with the long history of police violence and racial injustice. Tenant lawyers describe the deal as one that will fail to protect thousands, if not millions, from possible eviction in the months to come.

The problem, of course, is that the bill dragged along with the opposition of landlord groups until the very last minute, and since the real-estate lobby controls much of the state Legislature, it was unlikely any good bill could emerge in the final days.

This, a lot of tenant advocates say, is better than nothing. The crisis of eviction is real, and the bill might slow things down a bit. But it’s far from the protection tenant groups wanted.

Newsom, of course, said it was wonderful that the landlords and Chiu came together to craft a bill everyone could live with. But he apparently didn’t use his considerable influence to push the landlords for more.

The bill will allow San Francisco’s existing ban on evictions for non-payment of rent to remain in place, at least until next year. But it could prevent other cities from enacting similar legislation.

It doesn’t in any way forgive rent. It just states, as San Francisco’s law does, that back rent during the pandemic is a bill that can be collected like any other past-due bill, in civil court, but that it can’t be grounds for eviction.

The bill makes it easier for landlords to pursue that back rent: Under current law, Small Claims Court (where a creditor can go without paying legal fees to collect money) is limited to debts of $10,000 or less. Under the Newsom/Chiu bill, that limit would be lifted to any amount of back rent.

Which means a landlord with a tenant who lost their job and is struggling to eat could face a quick court hearing and be on the hook for massive back-rent payments, ruining their credit rating and making it impossible to borrow money, get a credit card, or in some cases, find a new job. It would allow the landlord, for example, to seize someone’s car, making it even harder for that person to get back into the job market.

It also assumes that the pandemic will be over by February, which is at best an optimistic assumption.

Sup. Dean Preston, who authored the city’s eviction moratorium, noted:

The state of California needs a comprehensive eviction moratorium, and AB 3088, announced by the governor today, certainly isn’t it.

The proposal provides limited relief from evictions for nonpayment through January 31, 2021, but it contains many problematic compromises to appease the landlord lobby. Unfortunately, this proposal seems to be as much about protecting real estate profits as it is about saving people from eviction in the midst of a pandemic.

The problematic provisions include:

Procedural barriers to tenants claiming inability to pay rent during the pandemic;
Temporary nature of the relief, not even six months, leaving tenants vulnerable to mass eviction in February 2021;
Preemption of new local legislation to protect tenants from nonpayment eviction;
Expansion of small claims jurisdiction to expedite landlord lawsuits for back rent.

That said, I want to make San Francisco tenants are aware that our local laws remain in effect. The new proposed state bill as introduced does not preempt or replace the permanent COVID-rent eviction ban that our office passed and has been upheld by the court. The bill only preempts such protections adopted after August 19. It also does not preempt or replace San Francisco’s moratorium on other types of evictions (no fault, capital improvements, etc). We are confirming our understanding of this with the City Attorney.

Fortunately, our City took action before this proposal, and the eviction ban I authored and our board passed wouldn’t be impacted by the legislation as introduced.

This bill has not yet passed. We urge the governor to deliver a real and complete eviction moratorium, as promised in his press release months ago. We must take bold action to prevent mass evictions across our state.

The bill could have exempted small landlords from mortgage foreclosure, but the banking lobby wouldn’t go for that. Instead, there are some very weak and limited protections that mostly amount to more notification of foreclosure actions.

With the landlord and banking lobbies in control, it could be a very ugly fall.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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