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News + PoliticsHousingEviction-free SF: Advocates say that renters still have options

Eviction-free SF: Advocates say that renters still have options

Know your rights—the moratorium is over but renters have a lot of remaining protections.

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Tenant advocates and District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston announced Friday the launch of an outreach campaign to inform tenants in District 5 of their protections against evictions—one day after the September 30 end of the statewide moratorium on evictions for non-payment of rent.

“District 5 will be an eviction-free zone as we move into the next stage of this pandemic,” Preston said.

Fred Sherburn-Zimmer, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco appears with Sup. Dean Preston to remind tenants of their rights.

Preston’s outreach campaign is partnering with Daybreak PAC, founded by former state Senate candidate Jackie Fielder, and will use its automated texting services and pool of volunteers to call District 5 residents to inform tenants of the eviction protections still available to them.

“When we learned about this effort by Supervisor Dean Preston we wanted to pitch in and offer our resources and volunteers to call every resident in District 5 and inform them of their rights,” Fielder said.

Although non-payment of rent evictions are allowed to proceed, as the state moratorium preempted the city from passing its own rent non-payment eviction ban, advocates reminded renters that evictions other than those related to non-payment of rent, violence, or health and safety issues, such as owner move-in, capital improvement, or demolition, will remain banned in San Francisco, thanks to a recent ordinance unanimously passed by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, which will last 60 days once it is enacted.

Advocates say that reaching out to inform tenants about how they can avoid eviction is especially important as COVID continues to spread and mutate.

“No one should be evicted right now because we are still in the middle of COVID. The best way to take care of yourself is to have protection in your home,” said Fred Sherburn-Zimmer, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, speaking on behalf of the Anti-Displacement Coalition.

While the state eviction moratorium for rent non-payment is over, the state’s $5.2 billion rent-relief program, which disburses funds to eligible tenants to pay back rent and utilities, is still active, and an open application for rent relief can be used as a defense if your landlord take you to court over an eviction for non-payment, according to advocates. Renters who make 80 percent or less of the Area Median Income and swear under penalty of perjury that they have been impacted financially by the pandemic are eligible.

In San Francisco, a family of four with annual earnings less than $106,550 would qualify under the AMI requirement.

Non-citizens are also eligible for rent relief, and an applicant’s immigration status will not be disclosed to any other agency. You can apply through the state’s Housing is Key website.

“Tenants have more protections now than they ever had,” Sherburn-Zimmer said.

What is key, according to advocates, is that people get their applications in as soon as possible, while funding is available, as the application itself will confer protection to you, even if it takes months for a check to arrive.

“Getting your application in, is actually what protects you from getting evicted right now,” Preston said. “Even if it takes two, three months, to cut the check for that back rent, if you as a tenant have gone onto the Housing is Key website, and if you have applied for relief, your landlord is not allowed to move forward and evict you while that is pending.”

According to Maximilian Barnes from the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, applicants should receive rental assistance within four to five weeks of applying.

What is important to remember, however, is that if a tenant is missing information on their application, it is up to the tenant to respond within 15 days to call and email updates notifying them of that missing information, which can land in their spam folder or come from unknown phone numbers, and to make sure that they add that information within that time period, otherwise their application may be closed without further notice and they will not receive rental assistance.

Advocates acknowledged that part of the reason that lack of information on protection and confusion around tenants’ rights is so widespread is because eviction protections have changed frequently throughout the pandemic, with different moratoria imposed at the federal, state, and local levels, leaving both landlords and tenants confused about what eviction protections exist.

“If you have a blanket ban on evictions, and you let all the landlords know, then there’s less likely that landlords will go forward, but if you do what California has done, and forced the city into, this constant maze of rules that’s constantly changing, it’s shifting the burden of learning the rules and exercising the rights onto the tenant,” Preston said.

Landlords have also expressed confusion about the swath of eviction protections for tenants as well as opportunities for landlords to receive compensation for back rent owed by their tenants.

Joshua Howard, executive vice president of local public affairs at the California Apartment Association, said in an email statement that all of the differing local regulations can cause confusion among landlords.

“Local governments make landlord-tenant laws more complicated and confusing. The state provided comprehensive protection to all renters, but some cities and counties tried to be more restrictive, creating confusion for both landlords and tenants,” Howard said. “That’s why the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act was so important: It provided equal and consistent rules across the state. Tenants need only apply for rental relief, and they are protected from eviction for nonpayment of rent.”

What is also important for renters to know, according to advocates, is that all tenants facing eviction have a right to an attorney, thanks to Prop F, passed in 2018. While there have been issues with funding the Tenant Right to an Attorney program in the past, the city’s most recent budget allocates $6 million to bolster the program.

“This is not a great time for tenants, but at the very least, there are more protections in place, there are more lawyers, there is more money for rental assistance,” said Martina Cucullu Lim, executive director of the Eviction Defense Collaborative.

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