Griselda is having a problem.
She rents a three-bedroom home in Sylmar for $3,200 and this month she’ll be short. She just had surgery, and she and her husband were out of work for nearly two weeks so she only has half the money for rent.
On top of that, her landlord is charging her a 7% fee for being late on her utility payments last month and she’s fearing the worst.
“I don’t have sick pay because I used it,” said the woman who, along with her husband, works in the “defense/military” industry.
She’s already anticipating that the lack of pay for missing those two weeks is going to put her behind on this month’s rent, which she says is going to anger a landlord she describes as an “a****hole.”
“This month he’s going to hit the roof,” she said.
The city and the county of Los Angeles have both issued emergency moratoriums on residential and commercial evictions, preventing the eviction of tenants unable to pay their rent on time due to work lost because of widespread business closures from the coronavirus outbreak.
The moratoriums don’t mean you’re exempt from paying the rent if you have it, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has emphasized.
But if you have suffered loss of wages due to COVID-19, tenants would be given up to six months to repay missed rent.
The moratorium also bans landlords from “no-fault” eviction for tenants who are sick, in isolation, or quarantined.
Rick Coca, communications director for the Office of Council President Nury Martinez, recommended that Griselda call the city’s Housing & Community Investment Department (HCID) at (800) 557-7368 to seek guidance on what to do in her situation.
Elena Popp, an attorney and executive director for tenant rights group Eviction Defense Network, advises, “If you have lost your job due to the COVID-19 crisis, and you cannot pay your rent, have proof. Keep the notice of dismissal or lay off.”
Popp also warns tenants not to get complacent and think that a moratorium — which she says is an inaccurate term for these tenant protection laws — means no evictions.
“Landlords can file evictions and are filing evictions,” she said.
She notes there will be landlords who won’t respect the tenant protection laws implemented by Los Angeles and other municipalities. So if you get an eviction notice that violates the mayor’s order, you should talk to the landlord before the notice expires (it includes an expiration date).
If no verbal agreement is reached (and you should try to get something in writing, preferably), you can file a complaint with HCID. At the same time write a letter explaining to the landlord the reason why you can’t pay the rent.
Popp recommends documenting how you send the letter.
Instead of going to the post office (where you might risk contagion), people “should videotape themselves putting the letter in a mailbox. Show the letter with a stamp and gloved hand and put it on social media,” she said.
An HCID inspector will be assigned to the case and review the tenant’s documentation proving their inability to pay related to COVID-19. The HCID website says a few ways to prove your loss of wages due to the coronavirus pandemic is a letter from the employer explaining reduced work hours or layoff, employer paycheck stubs or bank statements.
Other proof can be if you apply for unemployment benefits, Popp said.
“If you work ‘under the table,’ have names, emails, addresses and phone numbers to get declarations of employers under penalty of perjury,” she says of those without a regular paycheck.
Once proof is adequately registered, a HCID inspector can then send the landlord a letter requesting cancellation of the eviction order and noting the six-month repayment plan included in the moratorium. That six-month countdown starts once the local emergency is lifted. The mayor’s order currently lasts through the end of March, but could be extended, depending on the circumstances.
The tenant can use those six months to pay back their landlord all the back rent owed or they can arrange their own repayment plan.
“If you get a three-day notice to pay the rent (the start of an eviction process), explain the situation, and contact your landlord once again. If they file an eviction action, contact a lawyer and hire a lawyer to defend you in the eviction case,” Popp emphasized.
She said an attorney could present the defense based on the COVID-19 crisis. The one thing to remember is not to leave your home unless you are served with an eviction order from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which only happens once the court hears the case and decides against you. The landlord cannot force you out. If there is an effort to force you out, call the police.
“Real” Rent, Mortgage Forgiveness
While these tenant protection laws are helpful, says Popp, she worries they are just “kicking the can down the road.”
“We need real solutions, rent and mortgage forgiveness, where homeowners can’t be foreclosed and not paying the rent can’t affect [a] credit score,” she said. “Debt should be restructured so the missed mortgage payment without a penalty is paid later on in the loan process.”
Popp adds that when renters are living as much as 80% under the poverty line and are spending more than 50% of their income on rent, even with that six-month reprieve “they can’t catch up.”
“I’m worried about what happens in six months when tenants are not able to pay and they are facing evictions,” she said. In these uncertain times, people should “be frugal, take economic resources and if you can afford to pay rent, pay it. But if you can’t, first put food on the table.”
Above all, Popp said, “Do not move, do not be threatened or frightened by your landlord,” and if you need assistance, seek help.
Residents should check with available sources to make sure their situation does apply for assistance.
For questions about the eviction moratorium, contact the Los Angeles City’s Housing & Community Investment Department (HCID) at 1-800-557-7368
You can also contact the Eviction Defense Network at (213) 537-5473 or send an email to email@example.com
Recommendations for Renters
1. Don’t panic. Immediate protections are in place. You are not in immediate danger of losing your housing;
2. If you cannot pay your rent, email your landlord the reasons and print and mail the email. Video tape yourself putting it in the mailbox. (Avoid crowds at the post office).
3. Be frugal. Under current proposals you owe the rent and will have to pay it within 6 months after the crisis ends so be frugal;
4. Fight for permanent, long-term solutions such as rent and mortgage relief and true eviction moratoriums;
5. Contact an attorney at the first sign of trouble with the landlord: Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
5. Get involved: A movement for tenant and housing rights is sweeping the nation. Rise up! Be a part of the change that is taking place.
FB: Stop Gentrification #OnEveryFridge
https://latenantsunion.org/en/ or the tenant union in your City