After Three Years, LA County Ends Eviction Protections for Renters Harmed by COVID
For three years, renters in Los Angeles County have been given new protections from eviction if they couldn’t pay their rent due to the pandemic. But on Friday, the county’s COVID-19 emergency is ending — and so are those renter protections.
Elected leaders, such as L.A. Mayor Karen Bass, and local homeless service providers say they’re bracing for a wave of evictions across the region after the COVID-19 renter safeguards expire.
“We know that a huge number of people are really hanging on by a thread,” said Anne Miskey, CEO of Union Station Homeless Services. “What this could do is send a lot of people into homelessness.”
An estimated 246,000 renter households in the L.A. area were already behind on rent ahead of the Friday deadline, according to recent U.S. Census Bureau survey data.
Growth in homelessness across L.A. slowed during the pandemic, an unexpected outcome that many researchers attribute to the region’s long-lasting tenant protections. But the number of people sleeping outdoors still rose in recent years. Despite a massive influx of resources during the pandemic, more than 69,000 people are unhoused across the region on any given night.
Until now, economic harms from the pandemic served as a defense from eviction for low-income renters in L.A. County who couldn’t pay rent on time. Starting Saturday, renters living anywhere in the county will no longer be able to cite COVID-19 as a reason to delay rent payments.
For many tenants, the pandemic isn’t over
Amy Tannenbaum, an attorney with the L.A. based nonprofit Public Counsel, said many of the tenants she represents were laid off during the pandemic and have not returned to full-time employment. Others struggle to juggle work and childcare after their family’s main income-earner died of COVID-19.
“We’re three years into this pandemic, and there’s just not a recognition that the impacts are still really affecting people,” Tannenbaum said. “People had trouble paying their rent in L.A. before the pandemic, and this just really compounded it. Folks are really scared.”
Friday’s expiration of COVID-19 eviction rules marks a major policy shift for L.A. County, which has kept pandemic-related tenant protections in place far longer than other parts of the country.
L.A. County’s elected leaders have extended the COVID-19 safeguards twice in recent months. But earlier this month, they voted down a plan to extend some eviction limits for another year.
What did L.A.’s COVID-19 eviction protections accomplish?
In a county where a majority of residents rent rather than own their homes, local protections helped to stabilize thousands of L.A. renters.
LAist obtained data from the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department showing that after protections were put in place evictions fell by about 85% in the last nine months of 2020, compared with the same time frame in 2019.
But in recent months, evictions have been rising to pre-pandemic levels. Tenant advocates worry evictions may expand, with many who benefited from the protections soon falling into homelessness.
Service providers want to reach renters before eviction strikes
LaTonya Smith, the interim president and CEO of the St. Joseph Center, said her organization is trying to reach vulnerable renters before they’re evicted. She said in many cases the St. Joseph Center can provide homelessness prevention funds, or help renters downsize to a cheaper apartment.
Smith said such interventions are crucial, because once a tenant has an eviction on their record, many landlords are hesitant to rent to them.
“If people are having evictions on their record, it’s most likely because they couldn’t afford the rent,” Smith said. “In most cases, they had to make a decision about whether the rent was going to be paid, whether the light bill was going to be paid, whether children were going to be fed, or if medication was going to be bought.”
Where renters can go for help
The city and county of Los Angeles have funded StayHousedLA.org, a group of service providers offering legal aid to renters during the pandemic.
Renters who have a case filed against them in eviction court can use TenantPowerToolkit.org to prepare a response to the filing. Tenants who fail to respond to a court filing within five business days can end up losing their case automatically.
Jonathan Jager, an attorney with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, said tenants need to educate themselves about the expiring COVID-19 rules, because evictions can move quickly.
“What I would tell tenants is to not be afraid to ask for help,” Jager said. “Tenants need to be proactive to try to avoid the consequences of eviction. If a tenant loses an eviction lawsuit, that record becomes public and gets picked up by screening services that a lot of landlords use.”
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