‘You Can’t Move and You Can’t Stay’: Top Democrats Say COVID Renter Protections Won’t Work

April 2, 2020

‘You Can’t Move and You Can’t Stay’: Top Democrats Say COVID Renter Protections Won’t Work - (Sacramento Bee - April 2)

Two top Democrats in the California Legislature say Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order temporarily protecting tenants who can’t afford rent because of COVID-19 doesn’t stop landlords from initiating eviction proceedings and could allow a wave of evictions once the order ends on May 31.

The order issued Friday says people who have lost income because of COVID-19 will be temporarily spared from eviction for failing to pay rent. It applies to people who fall ill or must care for someone who catches the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, people who lose their jobs because of California’s stay-at-home order, and people missing work to care for children no longer in school.

The chairs of the housing committees in the state Assembly and Senate, Assemblyman David Chiu and Sen. Scott Wiener, say the order still lets landlords evict tenants on paper and has caused confusion among tenants.

The two San Francisco Democrats are urging Newsom to instead issue a flat-out ban on all eviction proceedings so that people can shelter in place to avoid spreading the virus without worrying that they will lose their homes.

The issue affects hundreds of thousands of renters who aren’t able to pay their April rent, Chiu said Wednesday during a virtual news conference.

The situation is particularly unjust because local governments are starting to tell people they can’t move to a new residence during the stay-at-home order.

“Tenants are being told you can’t move, and yet you can’t stay,” Chiu said.

Mass evictions would create a new crisis on top of COVID-19, the lawmakers say.

“The last thing we need is a wave of mass evictions during this pandemic,” Wiener said. “When this emergency ends, we as a state need to get back up on our feet. We need to get people back to work, we need to get businesses reopened.”

Newsom has encouraged local governments to also pass their own tenant protection rules during the crisis. Many, including Sacramento, have followed that advice.

But that has created more confusion, said Sarah Steinheimer, a lawyer with Legal Services of Northern California who works with tenants. The order seems to conflict with some federal and local rules governing evictions during the pandemic, leaving tenants unsure which rules apply to them, she said.

Newsom has said he is looking into ways to expand the order, but has not given specifics. His office did not respond to a request sent Wednesday afternoon seeking comment on the lawmakers’ concerns.