Senate Bill 91: CA Legislature Plans to Extend COVID Residential Eviction Protections To July 1, 2021
By John (J.R.) Richards
Since March 2020, landlords and tenants have been frantically calling real estate attorneys of all shapes and sizes to get some definitive answers regarding their relationship during these trying times. When we entered the zombie-like apocalypse, California government mainly through executive orders enacted an eviction moratorium. For a while, in most jurisdictions evictions were only possible if health and safety were truly at-issue. Some jurisdictions (like Alameda County) still will not issue or act upon a writ of possession (sheriff’s lock-out) unless health and safety are at-issue.
Then the legislature got their legs underneath them and enacted COVID related eviction moratorium for non-payment of rent. This law is set to end on February 1, 2021. That is just a few days away.
Most landlords have been completely stifled by the existing law. They could not evict and they could not collect rents. Their bills and their reliance upon rent payments is/was a continued reality. The stiff reality is/was that California landlords had little or no cashflow.
On the tenant side, our government needed to prevent mass evictions to stall a complete housing crisis. Such a housing crisis could collapse our entire economy.
Here in SB91, the California Legislature attempts to get things right, i.e., prevent a housing crisis, give tenants protections, get housing assistance to pay landlords, keep the playing field fair until things normalize.
In a bill that was originally introduced by California Senator Nancy Skinner from the East Bay of the Bay Area (encompassing in part Oakland, Berkeley and other parts of Alameda County), the California Legislature is likely to extend the COVID eviction moratorium.
SB91 amends various sections of the California Code related to landlord/tenant relationships effective immediately.
Foremost, the eviction moratorium would be extended from 2/1/2021 to 7/1/2021. This means that residential landlords are prohibited from bringing an eviction lawsuit for non-payment of rent until after 7/1/2021 under most circumstances.
Additionally, until that time, a landlord may not:
- Collect late fees for the time span of COVID;
- Increase fees.
SB91 also extends the requirement for mortgage servicers to offer forbearance on loans until 9/1/2021 for landlords.
Further, to collect on unpaid rents, under SB91, small claims will have extended and sole jurisdiction to hear these claims and said claims may not be filed until 8/1/2021. A plaintiff landlord seeking recovery of rental debt also has a duty under this law to investigate and help the tenant get governmental assistance to satisfy the debt. Recoverable attorney’s fees for the times relevant will also be capped or limited.
The legislature also tries to protect the impact of non-payment of rents. The new law will block landlords and others from the negative impact of non-payment of rents during this time. Counties can block access to court records about non-payment of rent.
A residential tenant has the continued ability to sign a declaration of inability to pay rent because of COVID-related financial stress until that same 7/1/2021. The landlord has to apply the rent paid during these COVID times to the month due AND the landlord cannot apply the security deposit to the rents to satisfy COVID-related rental debt.
All notices must comply with the specified language, again extended to 7/1/2021.
SB91 establishes a rental assistance program through the Department of Housing and Community Development for State and Federal back rental housing assistance.
So the legislature is trying to provide assistance to help to both landlords and tenants. There are built-in incentives for both landlords and tenants to seek assistance. The impact is to truly reduce any resultant housing crisis.
The laws related to landlord/tenant continue to be uncertain. As our society tackles COVID and its long term social and economic impact, one thing is for sure. Our legislature will continue to regulate landlord/tenant relationships to ensure housing stability as a top priority. No law is going to be perfect. We have already and will continue to see people be dramatically affected in a negative way as a result of these laws. I could give you a litany of stories. Regardless, SB91 is an earnest attempt by the legislature to do what must be done to protect Californians and give us long-term stability.