An ordinance that would prevent evictions during the coronavirus pandemic was delayed for a week by council on Tuesday night with the majority of members acknowledging support, but believing that they should get more stakeholder input.
With the outbreak of COVID-19, precautions recommended by health authorities have meant many people will be sheltering in place or may experience sudden and unexpected income loss with further impacts anticipated over the coming weeks. These will leave many tenants vulnerable to eviction.
The ordinance would prohibit landlords from evicting a resident due to non-payment if the tenant is unable to pay rent due to impacts from COVID-19. The ordinance would not relieve the tenant “of liability for the unpaid rent, which the landlord may seek after expiration of the local emergency and the tenant must pay within six months of the expiration of the local emergency.”
City Manager Mike Webb explained that this is not the norm, and the urgency ordinance was literally posted an hour before the meeting.
He explained, “We’re trying to put something forward for consideration as soon as possible… Nothing compels you to act to tonight.”
He said that the council could easily consider this on March 24, the date of the regularly scheduled council meeting, saying they could “take it up at that time.”
City Attorney Inder Khalsa said that this is something that would not be enforced by city staff, but rather “it does provide additional defenses to tenants who are facing evictions.” This would be a tool used by tenants to counteract eviction proceedings.
She also noted, “The urgency of this is sort of a question mark… ultimately it is unlikely that this ordinance would come into play for weeks if not months because the courts are increasingly shutting down and they’re not hearing unlawful detainer actions.”
Mike Webb added, “(This) is really to prevent the predatory type of evictions.”
Mayor Brett Lee noted he was “cautious” about trying to vote on something like this on this evening.
“Davis is somewhat unique in that over half the residential units are rentals,” he said. He wanted feedback from community members before proceeding. He cited ASUCD and the California Apartment Owners Association.
“Most people have a sense of what it means to rent an apartment because we’ve all experienced that,” he said. But most have not entered into a commercial lease. “That makes me hesitant to enacting something like this. I’m supportive of the principle—I think we all are.”
Councilmember Dan Carson said that he concurs with the mayor.
He warned that we could have a larger homeless problem if the worst case scenario of a 20 percent unemployment rate occurs.
“We need to be really careful,” he said. “Giving a chance to hear from folks who are paying close attention to these matters will only make this ordinance stronger.”
Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida said not everyone who has to stay home is going to lose wages.
“It’s really important to protect those that are most vulnerable,” she said. “This is an important thing to have in place. I just want to make sure it’s as carefully crafted as it can be.”
Will Arnold said he was comfortable with the direction he senses from his colleagues, noting he would have been willing to support it at the present meeting.
“I think our city attorney is correct that most of these bills won’t come through until the end of the month, which means that the difference between March 17 and March 24 is somewhat irrelevant in this regard,” he said.
Councilmember Arnold added, “If you’re going to ask folks to shelter in place, it’s imperative that they have a place to shelter.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting