COVID-19, or the Coronavirus, has struck with a force that no one was able to prepare for. Not only that, but the pandemic is so dynamic and ever changing, that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti had to issue orders escalating from a Local Emergency, touting preparation, to a full force “Safer At Home” Emergency Order, all within the span of three weeks.
Those hardest hit by this ongoing pandemic are the small businessowners and residential tenants throughout California, and especially in Los Angeles. Many are worried, and rightfully so, about their ability to pay rent and maintain their livelihoods during the pandemic and once it is finally over.
Fortunately, the various orders issued by Mayor Garcetti do offer some reprieve, specifically against evictions, once you understand when and how they apply.
Mayor Garcetti issued his first order imposing a moratorium on evictions for residential tenants on March 15, 2020. On March 17, 2020, the Mayor issued a second order, expanding the moratorium on evictions to commercial tenants as well. At that time, both orders state that
“no landlord shall evict a  tenant in the City of Los Angeles during this local emergency period if the tenant is able to show an inability to pay rent due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The key phrase here is that the inability to pay rent is “due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic.” The Orders go on to lay out examples of circumstances that would apply, including “loss of income due to a COVID-19 related workplace closure, child care expenditures due to school closures, health care expenses related to being ill with COVID-19 or caring for a member of the tenant’s household who is ill with COVID-19, or reasonable expenditures that stem from government-ordered emergency measures.”
So, the moratorium on evictions aid tenants who are ill, as well as those who have been affected economically by COVID-19. This does not mean tenants are allowed to withhold rent completely, however. Instead, tenants “will have up to six months following the expiration of the local emergency period to repay any back due rent.”
Finally, the procedure for using the moratorium is through an affirmative defense. This means that lawsuits, specifically unlawful detainers, may still be filed against you. There is no restriction against that. Instead, tenants can use the moratorium as a defense against the lawsuit.
What this means, practically, is that if an eviction proceeding is brought against you, it may go on for months in order for the Court to decide whether the moratorium applies to you. To be prepared, it is imperative to document and keep evidence of how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected your ability to pay rent. The Los Angeles housing department website offers the following examples of documentation that could support your claim: “a letter from the employer citing COVID-19 as a reason for reduced work hours or termination, employer paycheck stubs, or bank statements.”
On March 23, 2020, the Mayor issued a third Order expanding the moratorium even further. Specifically, the moratorium now prevented a “no-fault eviction” of residential tenants if “any member of the household is ill, in isolation, or under quarantine.” A “no-fault eviction” means “any eviction for which the notice to terminate tenancy is not based on an alleged fault of the tenant.” Note that this expansion only applies to those tenants who are “ill, in isolation, or under quarantine.” This is narrower in scope than the previous order which applied to all tenants whose ability to pay were affected.
Furthermore, the Order prevented the removal of occupied residential units from the rental market under the Ellis Act while this Order is in effect.
Again, this expansion does not mean tenants are allowed to withhold rent completely. They must still pay, unless they can show they have been affected pursuant to the Mayor’s March 15 and March 17 Orders.
This new Order extends the moratorium on eviction until April 19, 2020. It remains to be seen if this will be extended even further.
At this time, the best thing for all tenants, whether commercial or residential, to do is to keep detailed evidence of how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected you. The affirmative defense offered by Mayor Garcetti only applies if you are “able to show an inability to pay rent due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Whether this be receipts, pay stubs, or financial statements showing the loss of income, any and all evidence will be necessary to protect your rights.
Second, the relief offered by the Mayor’s order only extends to evictions due to nonpayment of rent, and no-fault evictions. It does not offer relief if there is an at-fault eviction. What this means is that you must still abide by the contract terms of your lease unrelated to payment of rent. If there are terms in your lease that you cannot fulfill because of the COVID-19 pandemic, now may be the best time to renegotiate those terms.
The Mayor’s orders only affect evictions that are initiated on or after the declaration of a local emergency on March 4, 2020. If you were put on notice about an eviction prior to the declaration of a local emergency, the affirmative defense and reprieve offered by the Mayor is not applicable. However, there may be other avenues to explore that offer temporary relief during these hard times, including temporary restraining orders on the eviction process.
Furthermore, the actual process for eviction requires many steps, including filing the proper notices, involvement of the sheriff’s office, and possibly even the Treasurer and Tax Collector’s Office. As many of these offices are operating in a limited capacity, evictions will be difficult to enforce. The best use of this time is to review the reasons for eviction and see if you are able to cure any of the reasons for eviction.
At Shenon Law Group we can assist in all your litigation needs not only during the litigation process, but also prior to litigation to prepare you and set you up for success should litigation be unavoidable. By informing you and helping you act on all options available, small businessowners and residential tenants can make the best decisions to ensure their financial health moving forward.