As many as 1.5 million renters in California are facing eviction and continue to struggle paying rent after many COVID-19 rent moratoriums ended, according to state Attorney General Rob Bonta.
Bonta has released guidelines asking state law enforcement to not respond to illegal efforts to remove tenants (pdf ).
“Nearly 1.5 million renters in California are at risk of eviction, struggling to put together next month’s rent as the cost of living continues to rise,” Bonta said in a July 13 release. While landlords might be annoyed, they still have to follow proper procedures if eviction is necessary .”
This means that landlords must file court proceedings instead of taking matters into themselves, Bonta states.
” You cannot lock the doors, turn off power or take personal property to force tenants out of their homes,” Bonta stated.
Self-help evictions can be illegal. According to the attorney general, landlords can be held civilly and criminally responsible if they fail to follow legal remedies.
The Attorney General’s Office could not disclose the number of complaints it had received, Bonta’s Press Office told The Epoch Times.
According to California’s Public Policy Institute, about one-third of renters in California are paying rent late.
A large majority–73 percent–of those who have missed rental payments are at least a couple of months behind, and 27 percent are five or more months behind, according to the policy institute.
As of April, the California Department of Housing and Community Development had distributed $2.8 billion in federal COVID emergency rental relief to 252,000 rental households, the institute said.
Renters with pending assistance applications were not evicted until June.
Sheriff’s departments across the state are starting to see eviction cases move through the courts after stalling for months during the COVID-19 pandemic, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told The Epoch Times. Honea is also the president of California State Sheriffs Association.
“This is similar to a lot other things that have been put on hold by COVID. But we are starting to see these cases moving through the court system. This is no different from criminal cases. Honea stated that COVID was a major factor in many cases involving criminals being delayed. Now, those cases are moving through the courts.
Tenants can be evicted by landlords who cut off electricity or water, take away tenant property or lock them out. According to the attorney general, these actions constitute misdemeanors. Law enforcement officers shouldn’t assist landlords in such cases.
Bonta stated that
Officers should instruct property owners to permit tenants to return into their homes.
The guidelines aren’t new but an update of law. Honea stated that landlords should consult competent legal counsel to make sure they are not in violation of criminal or civil law. Then, the process for obtaining an order from the court to evict tenants must be completed.
However court orders to evict can take many months especially after the pandemic-era court closings and eviction moratoriums. This is according to Dan Yukelson (executive director of The Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles), told The Epoch Times.
Many people who have lost their jobs in entertainment, restaurant and other service-related industries are not still paying rent even after nearly two years. Yukelson stated that property owners are seeing new cars arrive at their homes and tenants posting pictures on social media showing them traveling around the globe while they don’t pay rent.
In Los Angeles, renters who file for COVID-19 rent relief or protection don’t have to provide proof of their conditions.
” In many cases, the owners leave the bag behind and will never be able to collect past-due rent,” Yukelson stated.
Many owners have found other options to recover their losses than relying on expensive and lengthy court proceedings. Some are reporting tenant debt to credit bureaus, filing for state relief funds, or forgiving the debt and issuing federal 1099-C statements to renters. The IRS requires renters to pay taxes on any debt of more than $600 owed to landlords.
The majority of state-owned rental properties are owned by small businesses. Yukelson says that they are dependent upon rental income to pay for their retirements and other expenses.
The eviction moratorium in Los Angeles County lasts through June 2023. This means that some renters could accumulate three years worth of rent debt. He said that many owners have to go out of business, which leaves less housing available in the region.
” The way the government created this system for rent property owners was so inequitable and left them in an extremely difficult financial situation,” Yukelson stated. Many are worried about their loan defaults and fear losing their homes. Many of these people are considering selling their homes to cover their losses .”
Bonta said that the tactics used by Bonta are “ridiculous”.
“Bonta treats rental property owners like criminals,” Yukelson stated. He’s been doing that since the beginning and without providing any evidence. That’s not good for anyone. This is just a way for him to make more money .”