Assemblymember Chiu Introduces Bill to Prevent Evictions for Non-Payment During COVID-19 Emergency

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

As one-third of California tenants report an inability to pay rent, legislation would step in to avoid a wave of evictions and a dramatic increase in homelessness

Sacramento, CA—Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) introduced a bill today to allow millions of California tenants to remain stably housed despite economic upheaval caused by COVID-19. Assembly Bill 1436 would prevent the eviction of renters unable to pay rent during the COVID-19 emergency period, keeping them housed while still allowing landlords to collect rent owed.

“California simply cannot afford a wave of mass evictions,” said Assemblymember Chiu. “Doing nothing means millions could potentially be forced into homelessness. We are stepping in to keep tenants in their homes while allowing landlords to collect past due rent in a reasonable way.”

Prior to COVID-19, millions of California renters faced unstable and precarious housing situations due to high rental prices and an overall housing shortage. Over half of renters and 80 percent of low-income renters were considered rent-burdened, spending over 30 percent of their income on rent.

Now that stay-at-home orders and social distancing requirements have left millions without income, many renters have been unable to pay rent. A survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau between May 21-26 found 33 percent of California renters reported “little to no confidence” in their ability to pay rent in June. The number of people who cannot pay rent is likely to increase as household savings are depleted and federal relief programs wind down.

Under current policy, renters would immediately need to come up with all past due rent when a state of emergency order is lifted in order to avoid eviction. This is simply unrealistic while more than one-quarter of California’s workforce remain unemployed.

Without legislative action, millions of Californians could be evicted, leading to an unprecedented and catastrophic increase in homelessness. According to a report published by UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs, it is estimated that 365,000 households in Los Angeles County alone are at risk of COVID-19 related evictions.

The unlawful detainer process is not set up to achieve good outcomes for renters and landlords in such extraordinary times. The eviction process primarily exists to return property to a landlord, not to incentivize the renter to pay the landlord past due rent. The tenant is doubly harmed because they are not only without shelter, but also challenged in securing new housing, since unlawful detainer judgments negatively impact credit and rental histories for years.

This new bill seeks to give renters and landlords a framework to come to mutually beneficial arrangements that allow tenants to remain stably housed while landlords collect what they are owed.

For the duration of the “COVID period,” defined as the length of a state or local state of emergency order plus 90 days, AB 1436 would prohibit renters from being evicted for non-payment of rent. The bill then gives renters an additional 12 months from the COVID period before a landlord can seek a civil action to collect rent owed, but those civil remedies would not include eviction.  

During the COVID period and the subsequent year, renters are allowed to pay back their landlords if they are able to in order to resolve the situation early. This bill encourages agreements between renters and landlords so that legal, civil action is unnecessary. 

Additionally, after the COVID period ends, renters must keep up with their current monthly rent and can be evicted for failing to pay current rent. Any government subsidies that a landlord receives from a rental assistance program would be deducted from the amount the tenant owes the landlord.

AB 1436 is sponsored by the Western Center on Law and Poverty, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Public Advocates, Public Counsel, PolicyLink, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, and Housing Now! California. Assemblymembers Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), Lorena Gonzalez (D-Gonazalez), Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), and Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) are joint authors of AB 1436.

“There are currently no statewide protections to shield renters from evictions once courts reopen post COVID. California needs baseline protections now to avoid a crisis of mass eviction,” said Matthew Warren, housing attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty. “There are a lot of things the world’s 5th largest economy can weather right now, thousands of renters on the street isn’t one of them. These baseline protections must be put in place, then we can start assisting renters and struggling property owners with policies to recover from the economic crisis.”

“We’re seeing the impacts of systemic racism as Black and Brown communities are hit hardest by COVID-19,” said Sam Tepperman-Gelfant, managing attorney at Public Advocates. “That same structural racism infects our housing system, and if landlords can kick people out of their homes for rent they were unable to pay during the state of emergency, Black and Brown families will once again bear the brunt. California’s leaders must match their social justice rhetoric with action by doing all they can to avert the looming disaster facing renters and keep people of color in their homes.” 

AB 1436 is expected to be heard in a Senate policy committee in July. 

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AB 1436 Coauthors on Protecting California Renters

“We’re in the middle of an unprecedented economic crisis and a time of great upheaval. The moment calls for us to set up a sensible system to make sure that families are able to stay in their homes and get back on their feet. This is the right thing to do both morally and economically.” --Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica)

“I am co-authoring AB 1436 by Assembly member Chiu because it creates a framework to keep renters in place, while also protecting the interests of landlords. It prevents non-payment of rent during the COVID-19 emergency and 90 days after from being reported to credit agencies and any agency that evaluates prospective renters. This is important because no one should have their rental history blemished because they were simply following orders in a health emergency. AB 1436 will prevent further exacerbating our housing crisis.” --Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont), Member of the Senate Housing Committee

“Mass evictions will severely undermine California’s ability to recover economically from COVID-19. We face a significant risk of a huge number of renters losing their homes, and we have a moral responsibility to help them. AB 1436 takes a common sense approach to stopping evictions while creating a structure for payment of back rent.” --Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)

“The economic injuries inflicted on millions of Californians will take time to heal. They won’t end right after the State of Emergency is lifted. By extending the moratorium on evictions with AB 1436, we’ll be helping keep California tenants sheltered and safe so they can recover and repay back rent on a reasonable timeline.” --Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland)

“For months, a global pandemic has put millions of Californians out of work, forcing them to choose between paying their rent or buying groceries. Now, we are heading toward another crisis once the governor’s State of Emergency order is lifted and tenants are faced with a mountain of unpaid rent. This bill by Assemblymember Chiu, which I’m proud to joint-author, moves us away from that crisis by striking the balance our state needs to prevent evictions, give tenants a fair deal and provide property owners a path to recover lost rent.” --Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego)

“I am a coauthor on AB 1436 because I recognize the terrifying reality that thousands of renters and working families in my district—and millions more across the state—could face homelessness without the protections that this bill would provide. AB 1436 is a necessary measure to help ensure that those experiencing financial hardships during this challenging time will have the opportunity to get back on their feet and recover from the pervasive impacts of the pandemic without the added burden of devastating evictions.” --Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose)

“Housing is essential. Now more than ever we must protect renters, as well as providing relief to landlords. That is why I support AB 1436.” --Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton)

“Giving people a chance to recover means giving them time. We cannot reasonably expect tenants who were unable to work or lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic to immediately pay rent once the emergency orders are lifted. Before the roughly 5 million individuals and families who filed for unemployment can even pay rent, they need time to find a new job. AB 1436 protects low income individuals, people of color, and blue collar workers, who make up the majority demographic of renters, from being disproportionately evicted at a higher rate than white and wealthier tenants.” --Assemblymember Luz Rivas (D-Arleta)

“We cannot let COVID-19 exacerbate the housing and homelessness crisis in our state. I’m proud to joint author a bill that will provide much needed tenant stability during these unprecedented times by allowing them to pay rent without fear of eviction or retaliation.” --Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), Chair of the Select Committee on Los Angeles County Homelessness