Renters affected by the pandemic likely took a sigh of relief when, early this year, California lawmakers extended the statewide ban on evictions for those facing financial hardships until the end of June. The law also created a rental assistance program to help lift lower-income renters out of rental debt. The program started taking applications this week.
Nearly one of five renters in California fell behind on rent in 2020, according to an analysis by the Bay Area Equity Atlas and the Housing NOW! California coalition. In Santa Clara County, the average back rent is $4,651—totaling more than $173.5 million across the county. Roughly 43,000 families are at risk of eviction, according to a February county report.
Here’s what renters need to know about the rent relief program and the newly extended eviction moratorium.
Q: What protections do I have under the moratorium?
The bill, known as SB 91, extends the ban on evictions based on unpaid rent through June. To avoid eviction after this period, renters must pay at least 25% of the rent due between September 2020 and June 2021, either monthly or altogether by June 30.
If a landlord wants to evict you for unpaid rent, they must provide information about the moratorium. Tenants also have 15 days to submit a declaration under penalty of perjury back to the landlords, saying they hadn’t paid rent because of financial hardship related to COVID. An example of a declaration form can be found here.
Landlords are not allowed to retaliate by locking renters out or shutting off utilities. Property owners may face penalties for not following the moratorium. The law also prohibits any late fees added on past due rent between September 2020 and June 2021.
Q: What should I do if I can’t pay my rent right now?
You are currently protected under the current eviction moratorium, as long as you submit a COVID-related financial distress declaration to your landlord within 15 days of a “pay or quit” notice.
You might be eligible to receive rent relief from the state, as of this week, if your household’s income is less than 50% of the area median income. Tenants can apply with or without their landlords.
Housing is Key: California’s COVID-19 Rent Relief; 833-430-2122 or call the program’s local partners, Nuestra Casa de East Palo Alto at 650-248-6886 or Project Sentinel at 408-720-9888; www.housing.ca.gov/covid_rr/program_overview.html#renter
There are also several local resources for tenants in Santa Clara County who are at risk of homelessness:
The Santa Clara County CAN: Resources and safety net programs; 408-809-2124; www.wpusa.org/programs/santa-clara-county-can-covid-19-assistance-navigation/
The Santa Clara County Emergency Financial Assistance Network (EAN): ZIP code-based homeless prevention resources. Consult the list of local agencies here. 866-896-3587; www.sccgov.org/sites/osh/NeedAssistance/Rent/Pages/home.aspx
The Santa Clara County Homelessness Prevention System: Homelessness prevention assistance through Sacred Heart Community Service; 408-926-8885; [email protected]
Q: So I can’t be evicted through June?
Not quite. The protections only prevent evictions due to nonpayment of rent under two conditions: tenants pay 25% of rent owed before the end of the moratorium, and they submit a declaration within 15 days of a “pay or quit” notice (weekends and holidays excluded).
Landlords can still evict tenants for several reasons. According to KQED, there were 145 eviction cases in Santa Clara County between March 19 and Dec. 31, 2020. That is because the moratorium doesn’t cover evictions related to other causes, including health and safety. Consult with legal resources if you think a landlord is violating your rights.
Law Foundation of Silicon Valley provides free legal advice and representation to low-income tenants in Santa Clara County. Call 408-280-2424 or fill out this form: https://www.lawfoundation.org/housing-intake-form.
Q: Will my rent be forgiven?
It depends. The eviction protections do not wipe away your unpaid rent, and landlords have the option to pursue past due rent through small claims courts starting August 1.
However, rent relief is now available. California’s rental assistance program of $2.6 billion has begun taking applications this week from landlords and tenants.
Under this program, participating landlords can get 80% of unpaid rent if they agree to waive the remaining 20% of rent owed between April 2020 and March 2021. Tenants will be asked to verify their landlords’ application. If your landlord is not partaking, eligible tenants can also apply to receive 25% of past rent due and avoid eviction after June 30. Tenants may also receive rent and utility assistance. The application does not ask for or require proof of citizenship.
This is not a first-come, first-serve system. It will prioritize lower-income and more at-risk applications—Call 833-430-2122, or the program’s local partners Nuestra Casa de East Palo Alto (650-248-6886) or Project Sentinel at (408-720-9888) for more assistance.
Separately, Santa Clara County and San Jose are also working to roll out their own rent relief programs through Destination: Home and Sacred Heart Community Service. The programs, funded by about $57 million, will prioritize extremely-low income families who earn less than 30% of the area median income. Destination: Home representatives said the local programs need to follow federal guidelines. They complement the state’s aid.
Sign up for rent relief updates from San Jose by emailing [email protected].
Q: Can my landlord raise my rent right now?
Yes, but not exactly for tenants in San Jose. The City Council voted in February to reinstate a rent freeze through June 2021. Tenants who suffer from COVID-related financial hardship can submit a declaration to their landlords before any hike occurs to avoid paying more.
Outside of San Jose, annual rent increases are limited to 5% plus the rate of inflation. This excludes most single-family homes and apartments built after 2004.