LANDLORDS NEED TO KNOW: MORATORIUM UPDATE
HARDSHIP DECLARATIONS AND SIX MORE WEEKS UNTIL EVICTION RESTRICTIONS EASE UP
That light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter! On February 1, 2021, some of the heavy restrictions protecting tenants from evictions will expire. The COVID-19 Tenant Protection Act of 2020 implemented on September 1, 2020, laid out heavy restrictions to keep people in place during the pandemic and to prevent increases in household density which would tend to make the pandemic worse.
One of those restrictions was that a court may not evict a residential tenant unless it finds good cause pursuant to a specific list of about twenty enumerated causes. It also heavily restricted residential evictions for non-payment of rent, subleasing, and other financial-related hardships if the tenant submits a COVID-19 hardship declaration prior to their eviction. Most of these restrictions are coming to an end on February 1, 2021, although parts of the new laws will remain in effect until 2025.
Those declarations have been prevalent in court since then, causing much confusion and delay. The State of California issued its temporary tenant protection laws simultaneously with the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) federal regulations. Both laws offered tenants an opportunity to be protected from eviction if they issued a hardship declaration to the landlord. But the CDC regulations had no teeth. The CDC declaration was narrowly applicable to the few tenants who could attest to a long list of requirements, such as the statement, “[i]f evicted I would likely become homeless, need to move into a homeless shelter, or need to move into a new residence shared by other people who live in close quarters because I have no other available housing options.” By the way, the CDC moratorium ends on December 31, 2020, unless extended.
The California hardship declaration has a much greater effect on eviction proceedings. The California statutes provide that the landlord must serve the specific declaration form with any notices for non-payment of rent or other breaches of the lease agreement. If the tenant submits the specific declaration to the court, they are entitled to a special court hearing in which the court has discretion to dismiss the case if it is in violation of the COVID-19 Tenant Protection Act of 2020.
Our local court began setting these hardship hearings whenever a tenant submitted any kind of hardship declaration to the court. Those who studied the law as it developed know that the CDC declaration does not allow the eviction to be dismissed at an early hardship hearing, but the California declaration does. Confusion ensues as the court issues orders at these hearing while avoiding legal advice from the bench to tenants who represent themselves as defendants in court, and attorneys who were unaware of the technical interplay of the new laws.
The good news is that things are going to get a little bit easier for landlords, and evictions will take a step closer to normal again on February 1, 2021. That is, unless the law is rewritten to extend beyond the February 1 deadline.
Please join us on January 14, 2021 for our next webinar update to learn more!
Shanna Welsh-Levin is a California Real Estate Attorney who assists Realtors®, investors, and homeowners with real estate sale transactions and litigation. She authored legislation that became the California short sale anti-deficiency statute, Cal. Code of Civil Procedure §580e. Her firm, So. Cal. Realty Law, resolves real estate disputes and protects real estate investments. Services also include managing risk for real estate brokers and preventing future liability.