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Richmond’s rent control measure—Measure L—has passed with over 63 percent of the vote. Photo by Catherine Schuknecht.

Eviction may be coming for Richmond tenants who miss rent payments

on October 1, 2021

Richmond renters may again face eviction for not paying their rent after California’s eviction moratorium, which was designed to protect renters who lost work during the COVID-19 pandemic, expired Thursday night.

Richmond has its own eviction moratorium. But it turns out that doesn’t protect tenants who miss future rent payments, because of a legal complexity regarding when it passed.

That means that, beginning Friday, Richmond landlords can once again take tenants to court over missed rent payments. The city’s moratorium will continue to block most other evictions, unless there is an imminent health and safety threat or if the owner is taking the property off the rental market.

Carole Johnson, a Richmond renter and member of the city’s Rent Boar, is glad some city protections will remain in place, but echoed the worries of some tenants’ advocates that evictions may spike after the end of the statewide moratorium.

“There’s going to be more homeless people,” Johnson said. “It’s just really frustrating.”

Richmond’s moratorium has no set expiration date and is tied to the city’s state of emergency during the pandemic. Reached Tuesday, the city manager’s office had no specific information on when the city’s state of emergency — and the city moratorium — would end.

The reason Richmond’s protections don’t cover tenants who miss rent payments is because California’s moratorium blocked local governments from enacting nonpayment-of-rent protections until March 2022.

“Some cities and counties did their local moratorium BEFORE the state law went into effect,” City Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin, who co-authored the city moratorium, wrote in an email to Richmond Confidential. “In Richmond, that wasn’t the case. We did AFTER the state moratorium and therefore were preempted from including nonpayment of Rent.”

Tenants are still protected against evictions for missed rent in some neighboring cities and counties that passed their own eviction moratoriums ahead of California’s statewide protections. Alameda County’s moratorium, which continues to shield tenants from evictions for nonpayment of rent, went into effect on March 24, 2020, three days before the state passed its own moratorium.

Still, there are limits on eviction for nonpayment.

Under state law, tenants cannot be evicted over rent owed during the early months of the pandemic — between March 1, 2020, and Aug. 31, 2020, — as long as they give their landlord a signed declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress. Tenants who paid at least 25% of their rent between Sept. 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021, are also protected from eviction.

Tenants still owe the full rent from March 2020 to September 2021. Landlords can sue to collect that rent in small claims court starting Nov. 1.

Tenants can also apply for state rental assistance, which would prevent their landlords from evicting them while their relief application is pending.

State law requires landlords to apply for government rental assistance before they try to evict a tenant who hasn’t paid rent because of a coronavirus-related hardship. If the landlord’s relief application is denied, or their tenant does not fill out their required parts of the application, they can move forward with eviction proceedings.

So far, just 2,000 Richmond households have applied for rental assistance from the state. Of the $25 million residents have requested, the state has paid out just over one-third.

Contra Costa County’s moratorium also expired Thursday. Last week, the county Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 not to extend the ordinance.

Mike Vasilas, a landlord and leader of the Association of United Richmond Housing Providers, is frustrated with the city. He said Richmond leaders should be doing more to encourage renters and landlords to apply for rental assistance.

“If we have the funds and we have the means to distribute the funds, then the [end of the state] eviction moratorium shouldn’t be a problem,” said Vasilas, who also serves on the Richmond Rent Board.

Applications for rental assistance are at housingiskey.com.

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