By ERIC HE
LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles’ long-standing renter eviction protections due to COVID-19 hardship will be lifted at the end of January, the City Council decided unanimously Tuesday.
The council voted 12-0 to approve a package of recommendations from a council committee, following a spirited public comment session that featured both tenants advocating for continued protections and mom-and-pop landlords pleading for the restrictions to end.
Under the council action, landlords will be able to resume increasing rent on rent-controlled apartments, which account for three-quarters of the units in Los Angeles, beginning in February 2024.
Council President Nury Martinez called the vote a compromise that “preserves the livelihood of our renters while still transitioning from COVID- era protections to permanent tenant protections.”
“We cannot let this burden fall on either side, whether it’s the tenants or the mom-and-pop landlords,” Martinez said. “This policy that was put into place two years ago was intended solely to keep people housed and keep them off the streets. Now it is time that we not only keep people off the streets, but we also protect people’s housing and preserve their financial well- being.”
For the past few months, council members have grappled with those two sides. Housing groups believe ending the moratorium will place thousands of families impacted by the pandemic into limbo, while landlords claim current conditions are different from those at the onset of the pandemic and renters should no longer be able to use COVID-19 hardship as a reason to eschew paying rent.
Tenants who have missed payments since March 2020 will have to meet two re-payment deadlines. Under state law, they have until Aug. 1, 2023, to pay back missed rent between March 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021. Under the city’s moratorium, tenants will have until Feb. 1, 2024, to re-pay rent accumulated from Oct. 1, 2021 to Feb. 1, 2023.
The council voted to explore initiating universal just-cause rules, which would require specific reasons for landlords to evict tenants in all units, not just those under rent control. It also supported providing relocation assistance for all evictions deemed no-fault evictions.
Tenants also cannot be subjected to a no-fault eviction for unauthorized pets until Jan. 31, 2024. Other renter protection plans were noted as “report backs,” with several council members urging the city to enact those protections before the moratorium expires next year.
Councilman Mike Bonin was absent from the meeting, while council members Curren Price and Paul Krekorian recused themselves from the item because they own properties. Amendments by Councilwoman Nithya Raman that would have extended the moratorium until Feb. 28 and Councilman John Lee to allow rent increases on rent-controlled units immediately failed to pass.
Advocates of renter protections, including the Keep LA Housed Coalition, held a rally outside City Hall ahead of the meeting Tuesday. Its members argued that the moratorium has kept tens of thousands of residents in their homes and prevented mass displacement during a public health crisis.
Carla De Paz, senior organizer with the Community Power Collective, said low-income workers and people of color have faced the brunt of the pandemic.
“We’re still recovering,” De Paz said. “We are still in an emergency. We know this. We live this every day. Our city, our government wants to ignore the fact that people are still struggling. But we know we’re still struggling.”
Maria Briones, a street vendor who lives in District 8, said she was sick with COVID-19 for six months last year and fell behind on rent. Her landlord tried to evict her, taking her to court three times and cutting off her power during the recent heat wave, according to Briones.
“I could not sleep because the power was off,” Briones said. “I could not have my fan on. This is not right, and this is not human. We have been treated like animals.”
To end the moratorium without first enacting permanent protections would be “reckless and inhumane,” according to Faizah Malik, a senior staff attorney at Public Counsel.
“There should be no gaps in protections for tenants,” Malik said. “We cannot go back to a pre-pandemic world of tens of thousands of evictions, increasing rent burden, rising homelessness and a worsening housing crisis.”
Fred Sutton, senior vice president of local public affairs for the California Apartment Association, told the council landlords should “not be forced to provide the service of housing without compensation,” noting that “the conditions of 2020 are completely different than today.”
Sutton was hissed and booed by the crowd, eliciting a warning by Martinez.
“Rental housing providers are not in the eviction business,” Sutton said. “But eviction is unfortunately necessary and often a singular tool for resolving the most disruptive situations or when someone is not being compensated.”
A property owner who identified himself as Wayne Harris told the council that landlords should not be blamed for the pandemic. Harris said if the council wanted to continue the moratorium, it should also find a way to compensate landlords, noting that landlords can also get COVID-19 and become at risk of homelessness.
“What makes you think we’re different than the tenants?” Harris said. “You guys keep extending this thing. How do you sleep at night?”
Agouram Abdelmajid, who has been a property manager in Los Angeles in 15 years, said he supported extending the eviction protections. Abdelmajid said he’s been forced by landlords to conduct evictions “just because the landlord did not like the tenant.” The harm to the tenants without permanent protections outweighed the potential harm to the landlords, according to Abdelmajid.
“For landlords, it is strictly business,” Abdelmajid said. “But for tenants and the homeless, it is a life at stake.”