A key part of the state’s pandemic safety net has ended — its eviction moratorium.
An estimated 61,123 San Diego households are behind on their monthly payments, according to one recent analysis. The total rent debt in the county is about $229 million.
In California, there are 724,000 households with a total rent debt of $2.46 billion.
Beginning Friday, landlords can begin evicting tenants for nonpayment of rent. However, some protections remain: landlords must apply for rental assistance before they try to evict a tenant through the courts for failure to pay rent. To qualify for these protections, which are laid out in AB 832 and will stay in place through March 2022, tenants needed to pay at least 25 percent of their monthly rent by Sept. 30, 2021. Tenants should also provide a declaration of COVID-19 financial distress.
The state’s eviction moratorium did not halt all evictions — only those in the cases where the failure to pay rent was due to COVID-19-related financial stress. There have been 3,633 unlawful detainer actions filed in San Diego County Superior Court since April 2020, but court spokeswoman Julie Myres said it’s “impossible to determine what number of those cases were [for] those impacted by the eviction moratorium” — i.e. ones that were prevented from proceeding — versus those in which the eviction moratorium did not apply.
The unlawful detainer actions where the moratorium did not apply have been going forward since the court re-opened in May 2020.
“The lifting of the eviction moratorium will likely increase unlawful detainer filings, effective October 1, 2021, but to what extent it is still unknown,” Myres wrote in an e-mail. “As always, the court will continue to process filings in the order they are received.”
Laura Ann Fernea, executive director of the City Heights Community Development Corporation and chair of the San Diego Eviction Prevention Collaborative, a coalition of nonprofits that works with renters, said there were more than 700 evictions between January and August 2021, even with the state and county protections in place. That doesn’t include self-evictions, where tenants choose to leave at the threat of eviction prior to fighting their case in court.
Fernea said she expects evictions to rise with the end of the moratorium. Since the end of the county moratorium over the summer, the Legal Aid Society, which is part of the collaborative, has seen an increase in calls, she said.
What Rental Assistance Remains
The city of San Diego, San Diego County and Chula Vista all ran their rental and utility assistance programs for people who fell behind on payments due to COVID-19 related financial issues.
The San Diego Housing Commission, which runs the city program, has issued payments totaling $103,579,950 to 11,816 qualifying households so far. The remaining $65,777,699 of its available funds have been set aside for applicants who have preliminary approval and are just waiting for review and confirmation of their documentation. All of the funding the Housing Commission has for assistance payments has thus been either given out or obligated, said Housing Commission spokesman Scott Marshall in an e-mail.
On Oct. 5, the San Diego City Council will evaluate whether to authorize an additional $39.7 million in funds to provide low-income families experiencing financial hardships during the pandemic.
Marshall said the U.S. Department of Treasury has also informed the Housing Commission that it is working on a process to reallocate federal emergency rental assistance funds after Oct. 15. This reallocation would go to high-performing agencies — or agencies that have successfully dispersed their funding — with a demonstrated need.
As of Sept. 26, there are still 4,200 city rental assistance applications pending review and another 24,600 applications that were started but haven’t been completed or submitted. Marshall said the Housing Commission will continue to accept applications for the assistance, since efforts to obtain additional funding are underway. You can find the application here.
The county has roughly $103 million of its original $210 million in rental assistance funding still available. As of Sept. 21, the county has paid out almost $107 million to 13,696 households. The county has roughly 15,000 applications that are still pending final review and 19,000 applications that were started, but not yet submitted.
Renters and landlords can continue to apply for county assistance until the funding is gone.
Additional Help for Tenants on the Horizon
In addition to considering rental and utility assistance funding on Oct. 5, the San Diego City Council will discuss reallocating $5 million from the federal CARES Act Community Development Block Grant funds to provide legal representation and case management for tenants, as well eviction prevention and educational outreach. This would also include legal services for households with unauthorized immigrants.
Meanwhile at the county level, the Board of Supervisors approved funding for several new programs, including $5 million for rental assistance for small landlords, $4 million for security deposit assistance for low- and moderate-income rents and $15 million for eviction counseling, outreach and prevention services for tenants and landlords in financial need. Those legal services can be accessed by contacting the Legal Aid Society of San Diego.
AB 832 also included some other protections. For instance, landlords cannot interrupt or terminate utility service with the intent to drive their tenant out. It also pushes the date when landlords can sue in small claims court to recover unpaid COVID-19 rental debt to Nov. 1.
The city of San Diego also has a local “just cause” ordinance, or the Tenant Right to Know Ordinance, but it does not provide relocation assistance for no-fault evictions and requires a tenant to have rented for two years before they are covered under it.
But advocates like Fernea are still concerned.
“San Diego, compared to most other big cities, does not have very many tenant protections,” Frenea said.
Her priority now is ensuring that as everyone expects an increase in evictions that tenants know what rights they have and what resources are available to them. But she hopes that in the long-term, the pandemic will help move forward discussions on tenants’ rights throughout the county.
“The pandemic certainly exacerbated our biggest problems, but it also made us a lot more aware of them,” Fernea said. “It becomes really clear that this is a problem we don’t have a system to solve. That public awareness has begun to push policy makers and definitely helped the conversation.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the total amount of rent debt that’s estimated across California. This article has also been updated to reflect that the protections laid out in a state law for renters who paid 25 percent of their monthly rent is no longer applicable after Sept. 30.