By David Piotrowski, Law Offices of David Piotrowski
The “temporary” Los Angeles County eviction moratorium has been extended again and this time, many parts of the moratorium will remain in effect for all of 2022 and even into 2023! The Board of Supervisors has expanded the eviction moratorium and encouraged incorporated cities to create permanent rent control that would take over once the so-called “temporary” Los Angeles County eviction moratorium expires. The Board has created a three-phase plan to end the protections unless the Board decides to extend/modify the moratorium again in the future.
- Where Does the Los Angeles County Eviction Moratorium Apply? Does Your Rental Property Fall Within its Jurisdiction?
The Los Angeles County moratorium applies in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, and, effective September 1, 2020, it also applies in incorporated cities if the city does not have its own moratorium that is at least as restrictive as the county moratorium. The Los Angeles County moratorium is meant to provide uniform, minimum standards protecting tenants. The moratorium applies to all residential rental properties regardless of whether the property is a single-family residence, duplex, apartment complex, etc.
- Los Angeles County Eviction Moratorium Three-Phase Plan
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors decided to create a three-phase plan dealing with the eviction moratorium and how it will eventually end. Critical dates are outlined directly below and will be discussed in more detail throughout this article.
- Phase I: February 1, 2022 through May 31, 2022
- Phase II: June 1, 2022 through December 31, 2022
- Phase III: January 1, 2023, through June 30, 2023
Yes, you read that correctly…Parts of the Los Angeles County eviction moratorium has been extended through June 30, 2023! This, despite the economy and businesses being open. Landlords must continue to pay their taxes and bills and make timely repairs to their rental property. The many landlord obligations do not end.
In Phase I, existing protections will remain as-is, except non-paying tenants will gain more protections beginning April 1, 2022, as discussed below. In Phase II, landlord will get some additional rights to terminate tenancies for owner move-ins (expanding on existing owner move-in evictions), but strict requirements for owner move-in evictions must still be satisfied and will be discussed below. Evictions for the tenant denying access can move forward during Phase II. Under Phase II, a landlord may still not evict a tenant for nuisance, unauthorized occupants, or pets. For non-payment cases, the protections are limited to households with income at or below 80% of the Area Median Income, but tenants can self-certify their income level and do not need to provide any proof to the landlord. In Phase III, non-payment protections for tenants at or below 80% of the AMI will continue, but all other eviction protections will be lifted, “unless the Board considers options for extending eviction protections for tenants who have had to house unauthorized occupants or pets.”
- Non-Payment of Rent
Tenants will continue to be protected from eviction for failure to pay rent if the reason is COVID-related (no proof of COVID impact is needed). Non-payment protections for tenants are being increased (yes, increased!) beginning April 1, 2022, when state law protections expire. Los Angeles County has decided to increase tenant protections, despite the economy and businesses being open. No similar protections apply at the state level or in other nearby counties. It’s not a good time to be a landlord in Los Angeles County and many landlords have decided to stop being landlords in the county for this very reason, which will ultimately result in long-term disadvantages to the county economy and housing generally.
Between February 1, 2022, and through March 31, 2022 (the first part of Phase I), the County follows the state rules relating to non-payment of rent. Beginning April 1, 2022, and through May 31, 2022 (the second part of Phase I), a tenant in Los Angeles County may not be evicted for non-payment of rent, late charges, interest, or any other fees accrued if the tenant shows an inability to pay due to COVID-19, and the tenant has provided notice to the landlord within seven days after the date that the amount became due, unless extenuating circumstances exist, that the tenant is unable to pay. The tenant’s “proof” of inability to pay is nothing more than a self-certification.
As you can see from the italicized language, it is very easy for a tenant to be untruthful and there is little to nothing that a landlord can do about it. Even though the language says a tenant is supposed to notify a landlord that they cannot pay due to COVID within seven days of the rent being due, in actuality that is not the case. A tenant need only claim an extenuating circumstance for not notifying the landlord of their inability to pay, and then the tenant is excused from this requirement. Further, landlords are required to accept a tenant’s self-certification that the reason for not paying is due to COVID. A landlord is barred from requesting documentation/proof and must take tenant’s word for it. These “outs” have provided and continue to provide tenants with the ability to easily misuse the Los Angeles County eviction moratorium. These non-payment protections apply to all residential renters regardless of income.
Beginning June 1, 2022, and continuing through December 31, 2022 (Phase II), the non-payment protections found in the Los Angeles County eviction moratorium are slightly reduced. A residential tenant whose household income is at 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI) or below and who is unable to pay due to COVID is protected from eviction if the tenant provides notice to the landlord as discussed above and self-certifies 1) their income level, and 2) their financial hardship. Again, the tenant is not required to provide any documentation or proof to establish either their income level or their financial hardship and how it is related to COVID. If the household income is above 80% of the AMI, the non-payment protections will no longer apply after June 1, 2022. However, and to reiterate, a tenant need only self-certify their income and the landlord cannot ask for proof.
During Phase III, non-payment protections, including self-certification, for renters earning 80% of the AMI or below will continue, but all other eviction protections would end at the end of Phase II.
- No-Fault Evictions
Under the Los Angeles County eviction moratorium, most no-fault evictions continue to be banned. This means a landlord has no right to terminate a month-to-month tenancy for any type of no-fault reason, with very limited exceptions. Just don’t want to rent the property to the tenant? Too bad. Have other plans for the property, want to sell it, or remodel it? Too bad. Los Angeles County gives landlords no right to evict for any of these no-fault reasons. The exception to this rule has to do with owner or owner family-member move-ins.
Until May 31, 2022 (Phase I), the existing owner move-in requirements must be met that were put into law last year. These requirements included provisions such that an owner could only avail themselves of the owner move-in exemption if the tenant had been and is able to pay rent and does not have financial impacts due to COVID, and the owner purchased the property on or before June 30, 2021. These two requirements (the purchase date requirement and the requirement that the tenant can only be displaced if the tenant has not been impacted by financial impacts related to COVID) are going away for Phase II beginning June 1, 2022.
Many other requirements for the owner move-in exemption that was previously enacted will remain throughout Phase II, effectively making it nearly impossible to evict for owner/family member move-in. Some of the requirements remaining in effect during Phase II include 1) the landlord/family member must first seek to occupy a vacant unit if there are 3 or more units on the property and if there are no vacant units, the tenant being evicted has to be the most recent tenant, 2) the landlord must be a natural person and possess legal title to at least 50%, 3) the landlord may only terminate a tenancy if the landlord/family member is “similarly situated” to the tenant. Similarly situated means, for example, if the tenant or a household member is at least 62 years old, the landlord/family member must also be at least 62 years old. Another example of similarly situated is if the tenant or a household member has a disability, the landlord/family member must also have a disability. These are just two examples of “similarly situated.” The landlord must also provide the tenant with a 60-day notice to terminate tenancy and must also provide notice to Los Angeles County. The landlord/family member must move into the property within 60 days of the tenant vacating the unit and must live in the unit for at least 36 consecutive months. The landlord must also pay relocation assistance to the tenant. This is not an exhaustive list of landlord requirements for owner move-in, so you can see that the requirements to meet this exemption to no-fault evictions are very strict and rigorous.
- Nuisance, Unauthorized Occupants, or Pets
These special tenant protections are not changing. As crazy as it sounds, a landlord is not permitted to evict a tenant in Los Angeles County for nuisance or for unauthorized occupants or pets whose presence is necessitated by or related to the COVID-19 emergency.
- Denial of Landlord Entry
During Phase I, a tenant can continue to deny access to the rental unit except 1) if the landlord is remedying a condition that substantially endangers or impairs the health or safety of a residential tenant or other persons in or around the rental unit, or 2) the tenant is causing or threatening to cause substantial damage to the rental property. These protections expire at the end of Phase I.
What this means is that during Phase I, a landlord is still not allowed to enter the rental unit except in the very limited reasons stated above and cannot use the denial of entry as grounds for an eviction. At the beginning of Phase II, however, a landlord can evict if the tenant denies the landlord lawful entry.
- Tenant Self-Certification
Earlier in this article, the landlord must accept a tenant’s self-certification of income and/or financial hardship. This bears repeating…the landlord cannot ask for proof/evidence but must take the tenant at their word if the tenant says that their income is 80% or below the AMI and/or says that they can’t pay due to financial impacts related to COVID-19.
- Repayment of Money Owed to Landlord
What happens to all the money owed to the landlord if the tenant stops paying rent or other financial obligations? A residential tenant who fails to pay rent incurred from April 1, 2022, through May 31, 2022, has until May 31, 2023, to repay the debt, unless extended by Los Angeles County. Yes, you heard that correctly. May of 2023! But it doesn’t end there. If the tenant’s self-certification says they are at or below 80% of the AMI and therefore are protected during Phase II and III, the tenant will have 12 months after that time to repay the debt, unless extended by Los Angeles County.
- Rent Increases Frozen
Rent increases in unincorporated parts of Los Angeles County continue to be prohibited through December 31, 2022. For properties that are outside of the unincorporated areas, landlords must look to see if there are any other local restrictions on rent increases. If there are no other local restrictions, the rent can be raised, subject to any state or other laws, and with proper notice.
- Other Aspects of the Los Angeles County Eviction Moratorium
The landlord and the tenant can come to a payment plan arrangement. Effective April 1, 2022, a tenant’s inability to pay back unpaid rent under the terms of a payment plan, or at the end of the repayment period, cannot be used as grounds for an eviction. Further, a landlord is prohibited from applying a payment to any rental debt other than to the prospective month’s rent, unless the tenant agrees otherwise, in writing. Pass-throughs and other fees are prohibited.
- Harassment and Retaliation
Strict prohibitions against tenant harassment and retaliation remain. Interestingly, there are no reciprocal protections to protect landlords whose tenants harass or retaliate against the landlord.
For landlords who violate the Los Angeles County eviction moratorium, tenants or any other person or entity acting on behalf of the tenant, can bring a case against the landlord. Civil liability can be up to $5,000 per violation for each day that the violation continues and if the tenant is 65 years old or older, the court may award an additional penalty of up to $5,000 per violation per day. Landlords can also be charged criminally. The eviction moratorium of Los Angeles County can also be raised as an affirmative defense in an eviction case.
- More Renter Protections to Come?
The “temporary” eviction protections in the extension of the Los Angeles County eviction moratorium discussed in this article may not be the end of extra renter protections. The following language appears in the Los Angeles County eviction moratorium documentation:
“As we implement this phase-out plan, the County should simultaneously examine our existing permanent protections to determine whether changes and/or additions should be made based on lessons learned over the past two years. Additionally, many incorporated cities that do not have permanent protections and that have relied on the County’s emergency COVID-19 protections have expressed interest in adopting their own. The County should also explore opportunities to share these lessons learned and provide guidance and technical assistance to interested incorporated cities within the County.”
Attorney David Piotrowski has been representing landlords / plaintiffs by filing eviction cases against tenants. He is admitted to practice law in all California courts and the United States District Court for the Central District of California. He is a highly respected eviction attorney and is a frequent referral source for landlords, real estate agents, real estate brokers, and other attorneys. Mr. Piotrowski received a B.A. from UCLA and a J.D. from Southwestern University School of Law. For more information, go to: www.AttorneyDavid.com.