On Tuesday, the Davis City Council took up the issue of an ordinance to prevent evictions during the coronavirus pandemic, but wanted to get more weigh in from key stakeholders.
Staff is concerned that, as a result of the public health emergency, “many tenants in Davis have experienced or expect soon to experience sudden and unexpected income loss.”
They are also concerned, “Further economic impacts are anticipated in the coming weeks and months, leaving tenants vulnerable to eviction. Such impacts are also expected to be felt by the City’s commercial tenants, most of which are now required to cease (or at least substantially limit) their operations for the duration of the pandemic.”
This would avoid “unnecessary housing displacement, to protect the City’s affordable housing stock, and to prevent housed individuals from falling into homelessness.”
Among the provisions, landlords would be prohibited from evicting a residential or commercial tenant for nonpayment of rent if the tenant demonstrates that the tenant is unable to pay rent due to financial impacts related to COVID-19.
These include being sick with COVID-19, caring for a family member who is sick, being laid off or losing hours or otherwise having an income reduction resulting from business closure or other economic impacts.
The staff report notes: “During the period of local emergency declared in response to COVID-19, a residential or commercial tenant shall pay the portion of the rent that the tenant is able to pay.
Furthermore, “The tenant is not relieved 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.”
It would also prevent “a no-fault eviction” unless they can show it is immediately necessary due to the existence of a hazardous condition impacting tenants and/or neighbors. Staff stipulates: “a ‘hazardous condition’ does not include the presence of individuals who have been infected by or exposed to COVID-19.”
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.”
Staff noted that the ordinance has been shared with the Rental Stakeholders group for further comment.
The stakeholder group includes the California Apartment Owners Association (former Rental Housing Association of Sacramento Valley), local property managers including Boschken Properties, Lyon Property Management, Star Crossed Properties, Tandem Properties, and Zabace Property Management; The Arbors apartment complex; Legal Services of Northern California; ASUCD and a neighborhood representative from Oeste Manor.
There is no statewide ban on evictions. Governor Gavin Newsom has issued an executive order that allows cities and counties to stop landlords from kicking out tenants who miss their next rent payment, but it gives local governments the discretion to do so.
This has led tenants’ rights groups like the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment to decry the “total lack of leadership.”
Moreover, despite the comment from the city attorney, CalMatters was reporting on Thursday that landlords’ attorneys were continuing to file eviction lawsuits in Southern California courts.
“There’s no one person that I’m aware of, certainly in Southern California, that lost their job and couldn’t pay the March 1 rent,” CalMatter quoted landlords’ attorney Dennis Block.
He told the publication, “So unless you just want to say okay, well there’s a pandemic, let’s just start throwing money around from other people’s pockets, then that’s what you got.”
However, many courts will not even process such detainers, as the City Attorney pointed out.
City Manager Mike Webb explained on Tuesday, “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.”
In general, the council was supportive of the measure, but saw the need to get feedback from ASUCD and the California Apartment Owners Association.
“We need to be really careful,” Councilmember Dan Carson 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