By ERIC HE
LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles renters who have been relying on the city’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium for the last two years could see changes, with several City Council members signaling an intent Wednesday to discuss refining or possibly ending the moratorium.
Councilman John Lee, the only council member to vote against extending the city’s local emergency declaration due to the pandemic on Wednesday, held a news conference with a group of “mom-and-pop” landlords before the meeting, calling for a set date for the moratorium to end.
“If it doesn’t have an end date in sight, unfortunately these small property owners are left in limbo,” Lee told City News Service. “These people have to plan and make those decisions. Do they take out another loan to keep their property alive if they see the light at the end of the tunnel? We want to set that date so they can move forward with their decision.”
Eviction protections for non-payment of rent due to the economic impact of COVID-19 in the city will be in effect through August 2023, or up to 12 months following the end of the declaration of the local emergency.
During the June 24 council meeting, the council directed the city’s housing department to report back on recommendations and possible amendments to the moratorium. That report is expected within the next couple of weeks, according to Lee.
“These small landlords are the ones that are working with their tenants,” Lee said. “These small landlords are the ones that deal with their tenants on a personal level. These are people who have saved all their lives to use this as potential income, some in their retirement.”
Councilman Bob Blumenfield described the moratorium at the meeting as a “band-aid that is rapidly losing its schtick.” The state’s eviction moratorium expired at the end of June.
“It’s been two-and-a-half years,” he said. “We need new ways to protect our renters that are not simply the blunt tool of the COVID moratorium.”
One suggestion from Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson to help smaller landlords was to separate landlords based on income levels while creating policy, just like tenants.
“I think that we talk about small mom-and-pop landlords, and then we put forward policies that protect the big corporate landlords,” Harris-Dawson said. “I would suggest that we complicate this matter just a little bit more and think critically about what we can do and how can we lead on this matter.”
Stakeholders on both sides of the debate turned out at City Hall Wednesday, though most of the public speakers at the meeting supported keeping the moratorium.
Audre Lopez-King, a small rental property owner, said her income is now a quarter of what she would make without the moratorium because tenants are not paying rent and abusing the system.
“Policymakers focus on tenant voting numbers and corporate interests, and they ignore the social contributions and rights of mom-and-pop landlords,” Lopez-King said. “We are forced to bear the cost of tenant cost issues and the city’s homelessness crisis.”
Opponents of the moratorium want a third party to be able to audit renters who claim a COVID-19 hardship for rent, according to Jeff Faller, president of the Apartment Owners Association of California. He told CNS that tenant rights groups want to paint landlords as villains.
“We want to paint a wholesome picture,” Faller said. “If you think about it, down the middle, you have tenants that are good and housing providers that are good. You have tenants that are bad and housing providers that are bad.”
But Sergio Vargas, lead organizer for the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, told CNS landlords are still trying to evict people even with protections.
“If we get rid of those protections, it’s going to be even worse,” Vargas said. “We are still recovering from the economic collapse of COVID-19. It makes no sense they’re going to get rid of protections at this point when tenants are still recovering. Tenants still fear getting COVID.”
Vargas called on the state to bring back its COVID-19 rent relief program, “Housing is Key,” which allowed people to apply for help in paying for rent and utilities during the pandemic. The program expired at the end of March.
“We are still living in the pandemic,” Vargas said. “There are small landlords suffering. We should all come together to lobby the state so they can send more money from the federal government so we can get more relief.”
Among those who packed the council chamber Wednesday was South Los Angeles resident Mario Osorio, who said her building is in the process of being sold and she is unsure if she will be displaced. She has five children and is also a caretaker for her grandchildren while working part-time at a community center.
Osorio said if the council is reluctant to keep the moratorium as a permanent solution, then it should institute other programs or solutions to help out families.