by Naomi Sultan, Rent Control Board Vice Chair
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Santa Monica City Council enacted a temporary moratorium on evictions, which is currently in effect through September 30, 2020*.
The City’s moratorium prohibits a landlord from evicting or trying to evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent due to financial impacts related to COVID-19. In addition to those suffering direct financial impacts like loss of employment, tenants who have been unable to work due to illness (that of themselves or family members) or lack of childcare are also protected. Any such tenants who receive any communications from their landlords should seek advice and possible legal representation by contacting the Santa Monica Office of Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) at (800) 399-4529, Bet Tzedek Legal Services at (323) 939-0506, Eviction Defense Network at (213) 385-8112, or a private attorney.
In order to receive maximum protection from the moratorium, tenants who cannot pay their rent should notify their landlord in writing (text or email is fine) within 30 days of rent coming due of their inability to pay rent due to COVID-19. Tenants should also provide their landlord with documentation showing reduced income due to COVID-19. Examples of such documentation may include a letter from an employer citing COVID-19 as a reason for reduced work hours or termination; paycheck stubs from before and after the COVID-19 outbreak; or an email from a child’s school regarding closures. It should be noted that the City’s ordinance does not actually require that documentation come from a third party; a tenant’s written declaration describing how their financial circumstances have changed due to COVID-19 should suffice.
If a tenant notifies their landlord in writing within 30 days of the rent coming due that they cannot pay due to COVID-19, the landlord may not serve the tenant with an eviction notice, file an eviction case, or otherwise attempt to evict the tenant for nonpayment of rent
until 12 months after the expiration of the moratorium. Bad faith efforts by a landlord to evict a tenant who has provided notice and documentation of inability to pay rent due to COVID-19 would violate the City’s Tenant Harassment Ordinance. During the pandemic, a landlord who violates the Tenant Harassment Ordinance can face a penalty of up to $15,000 per violation. Tenants who believe they are being harassed by their landlord can contact the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office at (310) 458-8336.
Any Santa Monica tenant who cannot pay their rent during the moratorium period— including tenants who did not provide their landlord notice and documentation—will be able to assert affirmative defense in court based on the moratorium if their landlord files an eviction case against them for nonpayment. But a tenant who provided their landlord with notice and documentation of pandemic-related inability to pay rent will be in a stronger legal position; there will be rebuttable presumption that the tenant who provided notice and documentation is protected from eviction by the moratorium.
The City’s moratorium also prohibits a landlord from evicting or trying to evict a tenant for a number of other reasons, including lease expiration, “Ellis” withdrawals, and the presence of unauthorized occupants or pets.
*Keep checking SMRR’s website at www.smrr.org for any possible extension of the moratorium or other new information. Please note our mailed newsletter said July 31st as that was the date as of the publication of the newsletter.