By Luke Kyaw
LOS ANGELES, CA – In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Gavin Newsom signed late last month AB 832, a bill that will protect all tenants in the state from evictions for another three months and pay all past-due rent for eligible low-income tenants and small landlords.
The successful and swift passing of the bill largely stems from the approaching expiration of previous eviction protections, which would leave renters who are unable to pay rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic vulnerable to losing their homes.
With this new measure, tenants who pay at least 25% of their rent will be safe from evictions until Sept. 30. Moreover, it will also prohibit landlords from getting a court order against tenants before giving the latter a chance to apply for rent assistance through March 2022.
Newsom’s office released a statement regarding AB 832, writing that it “will [also] significantly increase cash assistance to low-income tenants and small landlords under the state’s $5.2 billion rent relief program, making it the largest and most comprehensive COVID rental protection and rent relief program of any state in the nation.”
The bill doubles the funding of the existing rent relief program, allowing the state to pay 100% of low-income tenants’ past-due rent and utilities all the way back to April 2020 as well as prospective rent until the expiration of the eviction protections.
Both landlords and tenants whose economic well-being has been affected by the pandemic can immediately apply for the expanded rent relief.
According to the Secretary of Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Lourdes Castro Ramirez, officials are aiming to distribute rent relief within 30 days of the submission of the application. The state will pay the landlords directly on all unpaid rent (if landlords do not apply, renters will be paid directly instead).
The official California housing website has also stated that applying for the program will not affect eligibility for other state assistance programs. Furthermore, regardless of their immigration status, anyone can apply and will not be required to show proof of citizenship.
A recent analysis by PolicyLink found that approximately 900,000 households in California are behind on rent with rent arrears averaging around $4,600. If these households are not provided financial help, they may end up living on the streets and dramatizing the severe homelessness so prevalent in California.
By increasing cash assistance to the rent relief program, the timely bill has been praised by many tenant advocates who have been struggling to pay their rent themselves. Patricia Mendoza, a leader of the Alliance for Californians for Community Empowerment, said, “Now I don’t have this massive financial burden on my back.”
However, there have been numerous complaints from tenants regarding the application process itself where applicants are required to fill out a 32-page application, making the process difficult for many.
Officials have replied to these concerns, claiming that the lengthy form ensures that people don’t use the program to commit abuse or fraud and that it has already been simplified.
Another concern that many have brought up is that while the money for the rent assistance has increased, timely distribution of the aid may be less than desirable.
With the pandemic comes unprecedented measures like the rent relief program that do not have the pre-established infrastructure to properly achieve their set goals. However, the Newsom administration has reassured lawmakers and the public that it is continuously improving the distribution process.
As of Wednesday, the rent relief program has successfully disbursed more than $1 billion to applicants.
Whereas the increased cash assistance from AB 832 was generally approved by most, some landlord groups have opposed the three-month extension for eviction protections.
Debra Carlton from the California Apartment Association said that “[m]any landlords have not received any rent since March of last year,” which has significantly impacted their ability to stay financially afloat.
While the three-month extension was not what most landlords wanted to see from AB 832, Debra conceded that they will “at least … get that 100 percent” of the past-due rent from their tenants through the rent assistance program, alleviating their circumstances to some extent.
Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, one of the key figures in passing AB 832, said that the “bottom line [of the bill] is to support struggling Californians … whether they be small mom-and-pop landlords … or tenants who are struggling and want to make sure they’ve got some stability.”
Landlords and renters can apply for rent relief here.
Luke Kyaw is an incoming third-year at UCLA majoring in Public Affairs. He is from San Gabriel, California, and aspires to attend law school after graduation.