In last-minute vote, LA County leaders approve two-month extension of COVID tenant protections

In last-minute vote, LA County leaders approve two-month extension of COVID tenant protections
In last-minute vote, LA County leaders approve two-month extension of COVID tenant protections

With just one week left before pandemic-era eviction rules expire, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday to extend COVID-19 tenant protections for another two months.

Low-income tenants in LA County who can’t pay rent due to hardship caused by the pandemic were set to lose eviction protections after Jan. 31. The expiration could have left about 226,000 households in the area with overdue rent vulnerable to eviction if they couldn’t pay February’s rent on time.

The extension, approved Tuesday evening after a lengthy public comment period, will keep those pandemic-related eviction safeguards in place until March 31.

“For many people who are still struggling, homelessness is unfortunately a potential next step if we don’t take further action,” said supervisor Lindsey Horvath.

Supervisors Hilda Solis and Horvath originally offered to extend the protections until June 30, but they reached a compromise with supervisor Janice Hahn, who wanted to overturn the rules early. In the final vote, Horvath, Solis and Hahn voted in favor of the two-month extension. Supervisor Kathryn Barger voted against and Supervisor Holly Mitchell abstained.

Last minute change in plans

The extension represents an abrupt change. County leaders originally planned to end COVID-19 eviction protections after December 2022. But supervisors approved a month-long extension to the end of January 2023 due to a “trifecta of respiratory illnesses involving COVID-19, seasonal influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

Hahn was reluctant to support an extension, saying: “There is a feeling, especially from our owners, that they are looking for honesty and transparency from us. When we said the last [extension] was the last one and then we extend it another six months, that’s my problem.

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, local landlords and tenants’ rights groups had been preparing for the COVID-19 rules to die out in February. Eviction lawyers have told landlords they will soon be able to evict non-paying tenants. Tenant advocates were gearing up to help tenants defend against an expected increase in eviction filings.

The Los Angeles City Council voted last week on a set of new protections that dramatically expand tenants’ rights, based largely on the assumption that pandemic-related warranties would disappear countywide in February. But now local COVID-19 tenant protections will remain in place throughout LA County, including the City of LA

Tuesday’s vote includes a two-month extension of eviction protections for tenants who have brought unauthorized occupants or pets into their homes during the pandemic. The LA City Council passed a one-year extension last week. Tenants living anywhere in LA County will need to make agreements with landlords to keep pandemic roommates and pets in place after protections expire.

Upcoming relief funds for small landlords – will they be enough?

In approving the extension of tenant protections, the LA County Board of Supervisors also voted to establish relief programs for small landlords facing the persistent lack of rental income.

Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Holly Mitchell said any expansion of protections for non-paying tenants should be matched with funds for landlord assistance.

They introduced a motion asking county staff to report within 14 days on potential funding sources for a new $45 million relief package. This program would be designed to give priority to landlords with no more than four rental units. Landlords should agree not to evict tenants for unpaid rent in order to receive funding.

Supervisors approved that motion, along with the creation of a much smaller $3 million Mom-and-Pop aid program that, when launched, would provide up to $30,000 to cover losses. due to unpaid rent. Under this program, landlords who no longer have mortgages on their rental properties and who depend on tenant payments for their income would be eligible.

Additional rent relief

Separately, county supervisors approved an additional $2 million in rent relief funding through the Stay Housed LA organization, which will be funded by federal COVID-19 relief money.

As they have for years, local landlord groups have opposed maintaining pandemic protections for tenants. Max Sherman of the Greater Los Angeles Apartment Association said supervisors had previously expressed concern over the struggle of small landlords.

“How can rental housing providers and tenants across the county be expected to know, let alone understand, the county’s ever-changing provisions and timelines?” Sherman asked. “It is time for the county to join [the city of] Los Angeles and the state and end these measures, allowing rental housing providers to resume normal operations, as all other industries have been able to do.

But housing advocates have said removing eviction protections now could lead to more homelessness at a time when rents in Los Angeles are rising and tenants are struggling to find new housing.

Zeke Sandoval, public policy manager at People Assisting The Homeless, said in his comments supporting the extension: “It’s simple: protecting tenants is preventing homelessness.”

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