For tenants behind on rent during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, experts advise following the three “S” rules: stay in your home, submit a declaration and seek rental assistance now.
“We know that this is a very difficult time for many renters and small property owners,” said Emily Ann Ramos, a preservation and protection associate at housing nonprofit Silicon Valley at Home. “There are protections from eviction, but they will only work if you take action to enforce them.”
The nonprofit hosted a Friday webinar explaining the rules behind the statewide eviction ban, led by Caryn Hreha, staff attorney at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley.
California first passed its eviction moratorium last year. AB 832, passed on June 28, extends the ban through Sept. 30. The San Jose City Council passed its extension of the city’s eviction ban on June 23, but the new state law supersedes it. Many tenants report still feeling unsafe since the passage of the state moratorium.
Tenants who make use of the law need to pay a portion of rent and follow other steps, which Hreha explained in detail.
Before a landlord can attempt to evict someone, they must submit a 15-day notice informing the tenant that they need to pay rent or submit a declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress. Tenants can also submit this form prior to being notified by their landlord.
“The blank declaration has to be attached to this notice,” Hreha said. Tenants are then required to return their signed declaration to the landlord within 15 days.
The attorney emphasized that there are different rules for different time periods. Tenants filing a declaration between March 1 and Aug. 31, 2020 didn’t have to pay any rent to be protected by the eviction moratorium. But for people filing a declaration this year, they’re required to pay 25% of the total rent owed between Sept. 1, 2020 and Sept. 30, 2021.
“If you are receiving rental assistance, this should actually cover all of the outstanding rent,” Hreha said.
Tenants need to sign and return the declaration every time their landlord gives them a notice. Hreha said it’s important that tenants keep a record of all the partial rent payments they’ve made since the start of the pandemic.
“If you have not been doing this so far, just do your best right now to write down what you’ve paid since March 1, 2020 and start keeping records of what you’re doing from here on,” she said.
Some attendees expressed worry over the pace of the state’s rent relief program during the webinar’s question and answer period.
“I fear the program may become overwhelmed like (the Employment Development Department) has been over the last 18 months and tenants may never get the help they need,” Housing Action Coalition organizer Kat Wortham wrote.
San Jose Art Advocates member Ron Muriera said it’s been months since the state started processing his household’s application.
“We have applied for rental assistance from the state in March 2021 and have been following up via phone several times,” Muriera said. “They have constantly been saying that our application is ‘being processed.’”
Eviction notices are required to note the reason that landlords ask tenants to leave. Hreha urged renters to call the law foundation for free legal advice on whether the stated reason is sufficient cause for eviction.
“We just want everyone to remember: stay put, don’t move,” Hreha said. “Submit the declaration and seek rental assistance now.”
Readers can call the law foundation at (408) 280-2424 or visit its website for more information about tenant protections.
Santa Clara County residents can apply for rent relief at SCCrenthelp.org.
Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.