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The Coronavirus And Rent: What’s Legal And Illegal When It Comes To Eviction In California

Adrianna Ngo
Adrianna Ngo Student, UC Berkeley
Adrianna Ngo is an undergraduate pre-law student at UC Berkeley studying Environmental Economics and Policy with a passion towards understanding the intersection between law and diversity.
  • Image by:
    David Mark from Pixabay
Row of Victorian Apartments in San Francisco, California. Renting and eviction in California.

In California, 17,035,151 people rent housing, making it the largest rental market in the nation. 


1 in 5 California residents have lost their jobs because of the Coronavirus.


In April, 10% of people living in Southern California didn’t pay their rent. 


In Oakland, a tenants’ group sent out 50,000 postcards promoting a “Don’t pay May” movement


If you live in California and haven’t paid your rent due to COVID-19, or are worried you won’t be able to do so soon, here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions we receive from renters. 


Can my landlord evict me if I don’t pay my rent if I’ve lost my job because of COVID-19? 


As of right now, no.


The CARES Act, passed by Congress on March 27th, placed a 120-day eviction moratorium on all housing that receives government subsidies or federally-backed loans. 


Note the keywords here: government subsidies or federally backed loans.


According to the National Housing Law Project, over 70% of all US mortgages are federally backed or owned. 


The federal moratorium expires July 25th


But 30% of property owners don’t have a federally backed mortgage (meaning they outright own the property or have another type of loan). 


In response, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order that bans the enforcement of eviction orders for renters that are affected by COVID-19 through May 31. 


This ban prevents landlords from evicting tenants if they cannot pay rent, and prohibits any enforcement of eviction by law enforcement or courts. 


There are some requirements that tenants must satisfy in order to be protected by this executive order:


  • Prior to March 27th, the tenant has to have continuously paid rent to their landlord.
  • Tenants must declare in writing that they must delay all or part of their payment of rent due to COVID-19, no more than 7 days after rent is due.
  • Tenants must provide verifiable documentation (payroll checks, bank statements, termination notices) that proves their financial standing has been affected by COVID-19


As long as you satisfy all of these qualifications, you are safe from getting evicted if you cannot pay rent due to COVID-19. 


Unfortunately, that order expires on May 31st


What happens after May 31? 


At that point, the effective dates for the eviction moratorium vary from city to city.


If you live in L.A. County, the Board of Supervisors approved an extension for the eviction moratorium until July 25th.  The order also says that tenants have up to 12 months to repay back the debt they accrued to landlords during the Covid-19 crisis. 


If you live in San Francisco, Mayor Breed issued an executive order in which the effective date for the eviction moratorium lasts through August 30th.


However, tenants only have 6 months to pay any missed rent back to your landlord.


To find out more information on your city/county and the current tenant protection restrictions placed, check out this local ordinance chart.


The state may provide rental assistance. Recently, State Sen. Lena Gonzalez, Democrat from Long Beach, introduced a bill to provide some type of bailout funding for renters and landlords suffering from missed rent payments. 

If passed, the state would make direct payments to landlords for as much as 80% of unpaid rent for tenants.


Hearings on the bill are scheduled for late May. 


In any case, remember that these orders only apply if you cannot pay rent due to financial impacts of COVID-19. This includes any loss of income due to layoffs, reduced work hours, or increased expenses. If you cannot pay rent due to non-emergency reasons, landlords can still file to evict you.


How do I prove if I’ve lost my job because of COVID-19? 


The language of the Executive Order is vague with regard to what constitutes “the non-payment of rent...due to the COVID-19 emergency.” 


While this order most likely applies to those facing financial difficulties due to job loss, it’s less clear whether it would also apply to people who have had to take reduced hours at work to care for family members, or for those whose family income has diminished.


If you communicate to your property owner that you will be unable to pay rent, your property owner may ask you for proof that your loss of income is due to the Coronavirus. 


For many, this might look like a letter from your employer explaining the reason you were laid off, or your application for unemployment benefits.


If your property owner is threatening you with eviction because of a lack of proof, you may want to talk to an attorney to seek legal advice. Court Buddy can match you with an affordable attorney who can help. 


Can I pay partial rent?


It’s unclear. 


The best course of action is to try to talk to your property owner about your options during and after the eviction moratorium. Some possibilities include:


  • temporarily pausing your rent payments
  • paying reduced rent
  • extending the timeline to repay rental debt.


Always keep a written record of any agreements you reach with your landlord – including expectations of how much rent will be repaid and when. Be sure to compile any documents you have that show your inability to pay rent, or inability to pay rent in full, during this crisis. 



What happens if I break my lease and just leave?


Your lease is a contract. 


When you sign it, you agree to pay for the entire term. Breaking your lease does not make the contractual obligation go away.


If you leave early, your landlord will likely hold you responsible for rent through the end of your lease by filing a collections suit against you.


If your landlord finds a new tenant before your lease ends, however, they can no longer hold you responsible for rent through the end of your lease following the new tenant’s first rent payment.


Because each lease is different, the best thing to do is read through your lease, particularly the section about lease breaking/early termination.  


Can my landlord lock me out during the moratoriums? 




To lawfully evict a tenant, your landlord must first serve you with a written notice and then file a case with your County’s Court if you do not move out voluntarily. If you do not move out voluntarily, they cannot have you physically removed from the property or change the locks until they have a judgment from the Court. 


If your property is covered by the CARES Act, you cannot be served with a notice to vacate due to nonpayment of rent until the federal moratorium ends on July 25th. 


The timeline of an eviction case will vary depending on the details of the case. 


If your property isn’t covered under the CARES Act, landlords can continue to give eviction notices during the moratorium, both for pandemic-related nonpayment and for reasons unrelated to COVID-19. 


 If your landlord has locked you out before these dates, call 311


Does my landlord still have to fix things that are broken even if I haven’t paid rent?


Yes. If the needed repairs are due to a major habitability problem, and if you did not cause the damage, your landlord must fix the issues. 


Some examples of damages that could cause habitability problems might include plumbing issues, broken windows, damages to your heating system, or issues with your hot water.


If you’ve come to an agreement on postponing your rent payments or paying partial rent due to the pandemic, be sure to cite that when discussing damages with your landlord. Again, make sure that any agreements you make about fixing the damages are in writing. 


If your landlord isn’t making necessary repairs and you decide to seek legal advice, Court Buddy is here to connect you with an attorney who can help. 


Legal Disclaimer

This article is intended to convey general information and does not constitute legal advice.


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