How San Jose renters can protect themselves after eviction ban ends
The Japantown senior apartments, an affordable housing project in San Jose. File photo.

With just three days left, thousands of Santa Clara County renters are still waiting for eviction assistance, and those are the ones who have applied.

As of Monday, 7,721 households in the county have filed for rent relief with the California Housing is Key program, which provides financial assistance to people who can’t pay rent due to COVID-19-related hardships. Approximately 3,153 households have received financial aid—about 40% of all applications—with more than $42 million paid out in total. More than $106 million in funds have been requested.

It’s become a pressing issue as a ban on pandemic-related evictions ends this Thursday.

For any Santa Clara County resident who owes rent debt and is worried about being evicted, there is one thing they should do immediately:

“Apply for rental assistance as soon as possible,” said Nassim Moallem, staff attorney with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley. “Make sure you know your rights and make sure they’re being exercised.”

What to know for Oct. 1

Starting Friday, tenants who owe back rent must pay at least 25% of the rent they owe from Sept. 1, 2020 through Sept. 30, 2021. Tenants are still responsible for unpaid rent, but can’t be evicted for it if they meet this threshold. Starting on Nov. 1, however, landlords can try to recover this debt through small claims court.

Even if tenants are unable to pay 25% of rent owed, they still can’t be immediately evicted. If the landlord serves notice for rent owed between March 1, 2020 and Sept. 30, 2021, tenants can give their landlord a signed declaration of COVID-19 related financial distress within 15 business days. Upon receipt of this declaration, landlords must apply for assistance through the rent relief program before they can proceed with an eviction lawsuit.

Tenants who apply to the program within 15 days of receiving an eviction notice, or receive a notice from the program that their application is pending, are safe from eviction while the application is pending.

A recent city memo estimates 12,800 households in San Jose are behind on rent, with an average $4,600 in rent debt. Recent data suggests an estimated 39,000 households in Santa Clara County are behind on rent as of August.

‘A really chaotic situation’

The best way for tenants to protect themselves from possible eviction is to apply for rental assistance, said Jeff Scott, spokesperson for the San Jose housing department.

“Qualified tenants can get up to 100% of their rent paid through this program,” Scott told San José Spotlight. “Vulnerable tenants should not wait.”

Shanti Singh, communications and legislative director for Tenants Together, said it’s frustrating that California didn’t follow the lead of New York, which extended its moratorium through January. She emphasized that rental assistance is the best path for debt-carrying tenants to avoid eviction.

“Part of the reason we’ve been telling everyone to apply for rent relief as soon as possible is because there are protections you have as long as you’re in the system. There are still protections there, but it’s going to be a really chaotic situation,” Singh told San José Spotlight.

California passed its eviction moratorium last year and extended it to Sept. 30 earlier this summer. A rent relief program pumped tens of millions of dollars into cities and counties across the state, but drew complaints about the slow pace it distributed funds.

Gregory Kepferle, CEO of Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, told San José Spotlight his team has been holding regular rental assistance pop-up events throughout the city and county, and handing out fliers at food distributions. He said rental applications through the state program have become much more streamlined and easier to manage for applicants.

“The length of time processing (applications) has gone down significantly,” he said.

The end of the moratorium makes people anxious, he added, but the silver lining is that there’s still money available for assistance.

“There are still resources for both the landlords and tenants,” Kepferle said. “There’s a lot in the pipeline that’s flowing, and there’s a lot more available. All people have to do is show they made an attempt so they can do the 25% (rental payment).”

Where to get assistance

Santa Clara County and San Jose previously offered local rent relief using a mix of federal funds and private dollars fundraised by Destination: Home. To date, the county received 5,330 applications through this program, of which 2,452 have received financial assistance totaling $24.7 million. This option no longer exists, said David Low, a spokesman at Destination: Home. All applicants should file for assistance with the state, he said.

Huascar Castro, associate director of housing and transportation policy at Working Partnerships USA, urges tenants to finish applying to the state program if they haven’t already.

“Complete your application to the rental assistance program,” he told San José Spotlight. “Don’t just start them—finish them.”

Tenants in Santa Clara County who want to file for rental assistance can contact the statewide rent relief program by calling (833) 430-2122 or visiting the website HousingIsKey.com to start an application. The site also includes an FAQ section that addresses common questions about applying for rent relief.

Renters seeking help can find assistance at two eviction help centers in San Jose. One is located at San Jose City Hall on the 12th floor, and the other center is located at Franklin McKinley School District at 645 Wool Creek Drive in San Jose.

Tenants and landlords can also contact the Housing Department for more information by calling (408) 975-4444 or emailing [email protected]

Consuelo Hernandez, director of the Santa Clara County Office of Supportive Housing, told San José Spotlight the county is co-hosting an informational event about COVID-19 emergency rental assistance on Wednesday in Morgan Hill.

Tenants can also contact the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley if they receive an eviction notice at (408) 280-2424.

Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

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