San Jose eviction bans leave renters more confused than confident
Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese spoke to reporters at the County Government Building Friday. Photo by Katie Lauer.

Renters affected by the novel coronavirus in San Jose are triple-protected from evictions through May 31, following city, county and state-passed laws stopping landlords from removing residents for not paying rent.

But rather than feel protected, the separate laws have created confusion for many residents and small businesses untangling the details as record numbers of Californians file for unemployment and children learn from home amid school closures.

And while the moratoria may offer temporary relief, the laws don’t cancel rent. Many renters worry they won’t be able to pay back their debt after May and will be pushed onto the street or forced to close their shops once the eviction bans end.

Mariaelena Henriquez, owner of Sea Link Café on Milpitas’ Main Street and a single mom who rents, said she can’t pay her bills or sustain the same clientele she once had.

“We are in a very critical situation where not only do we have to work, but we also don’t have the same economic solvency to take care of our children,” Henriquez said during an April 2 teleconference hosted by the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley.

Santa Clara County eviction freeze provides relief for renters & small businesses during COVID-19 – but these new protections are not well understood

Thank you for joining us! The Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, Magdalena Carrasco, and Supervisor Dave Cortese for a LIVE Press Conference about the current eviction moratorium (freeze). As April rents come due, learn more about your rights and responsibilities as both a renter and a landlord!Press conference in Spanish at 12:30pm, same page! See you then.

Posted by Silicon Valley at Home on Thursday, April 2, 2020

Where the laws overlap

All three moratoria apply to renters who have suffered financially from COVID-19. That may include a costly emergency room visit or loss of pay due to shelter-in-place orders. The bans apply regardless of income or immigration status.

But rent must eventually be paid, and tenants can be evicted come June. Legal experts agree it’s best tenants pay rent now, but many renters in one of the country’s most expensive counties, say that’s not an option until they can get back to work.

“This is a crisis, and I’m here to tell you this is not the middle of it. This is really just the beginning,” Chris Rios, a Stanford University graduate and web developer, said during the recent Law Foundation teleconference.

Each moratorium requires tenants to notify their landlord and prove they’re unable to pay rent. Proof can include medical bills, pay stubs showing reduced work or letters showing school has been canceled.

Local ordinances take precedence if it offers more protection to renters.

Where the laws diverge

Both the state and city’s moratoria address only residential tenants affected by COVID-19. Santa Clara County’s moratorium protects residential, small business and nonprofit renters throughout the county — even in San Jose.

“When people are seeking unemployment in record numbers right now in the state of California and the Bay Area, we know it’s a big issue and it’s why we put (the moratorium) in place,” Supervisor Dave Cortese said on the call.

The state order requires tenants give their landlord notice that they can’t pay within a week after rent is due. The county order, unanimously passed by supervisors March 24, allows tenants to provide notification after an eviction notice has been served, though officials advise notifying a landlord as soon as possible.

San Jose’s order asks tenants to notify their landlord immediately if they can’t make rent, but an amendment set for a future council vote would give tenants seven days after receiving an eviction notice to submit notification that they have been negatively affected by COVID-19. San Jose was one of the first cities in California to halt evictions.

“There is no belief or delusion on my part, that this is going to solve anything. What it’s going to do is it’s going to help reduce the pain,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said previously. “This is not the cure, this is pain reduction, and we’re going to have a lot of people in pain.”

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is pictured during a news conference in this file photo. Photo by Katie Lauer.

Other protections

The county bans landlords from charging late fees for 120 days after the ordinance expires. To prevent rent costs from rising, San Jose lawmakers last week gave direction to draft a rent freeze policy that prohibits landlords from raising rents on all rent-controlled units until Dec. 31.

Newsom’s order bars eviction hearings unless safety concerns apply until 90 days after California’s state of emergency ends, according to the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

Even so, some argue that the governor hasn’t gone far enough.

“(Newsom’s order is) very, very limited, and tenants … can miss that opportunity for providing that notification or documentation (to landlords),” Michael Trujillo, an attorney with the Law Foundation, told San José Spotlight. “Those kinds of pitfalls make it almost more harmful than helpful because of the confusion it makes and hurdles it takes just to be protected.”

Newsom’s office said the order creates immediate relief for renters in areas that didn’t have an eviction moratorium.

“Through May 31, there will be no eviction proceedings, there will be no enforcement as it relates to your ability to pay for COVID-19,” Newsom said during a news conference last month. “It does not preempt any local ordinances that go deeper or farther but it is an overlay for the state of California.”

To find more on each moratorium, here is information for the state order, county ordinance and San Jose’s actions.

Contact Eduardo Cuevas at eduardomcuevas@gmail.com or follow @eduardomcuevas on Twitter.

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