Coronavirus: San Jose lawmakers propose suspending rent
Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Katie Lauer.

Cities across California are passing a slew of laws delaying rent and banning evictions for families who cannot pay during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order, but some lawmakers say the patchwork of bills don’t go far enough to protect renters.

As unemployment rates across the country surge to all-time highs, San Jose Councilmembers Magdalena Carrasco and Raul Peralez on Monday introduced a proposal to waive rent for three months for families who are struggling to make rent due to the coronavirus.

Fearing an onslaught of new evictions once the city and state moratoriums have lifted, the lawmakers propose forgiving all rent payments racked up during the shelter-in-place order so that residents do not have to pay it back in the future.

“A rent pause will protect the families that are facing the difficulty of making their next rent payment and protect them from the real prospect of eviction,” Peralez said at a virtual news conference Monday. “If they can’t pay their rent due to the coronavirus — whether they’re sick and cannot work or because they’ve lost their job or had their hours cut back by their employer — it is our job to look further down the line and not only protect our community’s health but their housing and economic security as well.”

With an average rent of $3,941 in San Jose, Carrasco and Peralez argue tenants who are unable to pay rent for three months will likely owe nearly $16,000 in back payments, paving the way for an exacerbated housing and homelessness crisis.

“This would be an insurmountable for families who are making minimum-wage salaries,” they said in a joint memo.

A state order bans evictions during the shelter-in-place order, but still allows landlords to start the eviction process by filing notices and lawsuits, preparing to drive tenants out once the ban has been lifted on May 31. The state moratorium does not prevent landlords from pushing out tenants for remodeling a unit, moving in their own families or taking the unit off the market completely.

Tenants must also provide written documentation that they’ve lost income due to the coronavirus, posing a problem for gig workers, undocumented residents or those on the brink of poverty.

“Because it’s a temporary measure, this rent pause merely impacts the timing, not the ability of landlords to pose rent increases and collect rent,” Michael Trujillo, an attorney with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, said Monday.

Through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, landlords are entitled to mortgage payment relief. The forgivable loans are available to all homeowners with single- and multifamily loans owned, insured or guaranteed by one of five federal agencies. Now, renters need similar protections, they said.

But some housing groups, such as the California Apartment Association, called a suspension on rent an “unlawful” policy that would punish landlords who are trying to work with their tenants to keep them in their homes.

“Unfortunately, two San Jose councilmembers are proposing an unlawful ordinance that penalizes the very people who are providing homes for local residents — that’s unfair,” said Joshua Howard, the organization’s senior vice president. “Rather than push forward with this unlawful ordinance, the city should focus on helping struggling residents and businesses pay their bills, versus potentially subjecting the city to costly lawsuits.”

Last week, the federal government passed a trillion dollar stimulus package, which includes a one time payment of $1,200. For those families filing for unemployment in California, each resident can receive up to $450.

San Jose and Santa Clara County leaders have also made significant strides helping low-income families through the Silicon Valley Strong Fund, though Carrasco and Peralez said in less than four days the $11 million dollar fund had been exhausted. Despite the financial assistance, the lawmakers and many legal experts said the relief will not go far enough to address low-income residents’ hardships.

“This creates even a more complicated situation for my residents,” said Carrasco, who represents the city’s East Side, during a news conference Monday. “That’s because poverty is a comorbidity. In other words, it’s an underlying health condition. It makes people more susceptible to the virus spreading, folks are not taking care of their overall health because of a lack of insurance.”

If approved, the rent suspension will be retroactive to April 1. The lawmakers will discuss the measure at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Contact Nadia Lopez at [email protected] or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.