Beverly Hills tenants have at least one ray of light amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, which has dramatically curtailed our ability to freely move about the City in order to curb the spread of the virus –a reprieve on evictions.
An urgency ordinance, which went into effect on April 1, placed an eviction moratorium on residential and commercial properties while the declared State of Emergency remains in place. The ordinance does not ultimately relieve tenants of their obligation to pay rent.
“I would say 100 percent are saying we know that we are going to have to pay this back and we want to pay this back,” Deputy Director of Rent Stabilization Helen Morales told the Courier. “It’s very, very traumatic for both sides and we want to be the middle voice here.”
While residential and commercial tenants welcome the reprieve, property owners are facing challenges. The ordinance recognizes that many commercial tenants who operate within the City may have to close their businesses in response to emergency orders, which will substantially decrease or eliminate their income. Moreover, the businesses that are permitted to remain open are also likely to experience a significant loss of income while the emergency orders are in effect.
“In the interest of public peace, health and safety, as affected by the emergency caused by the spread of COVID-19, it is necessary for the City Council to exercise its authority to issue these regulations related to the protection of the public peace, health or safety,” states the ordinance, which was initially passed on March 15 and amended on March 31.
The ordinance restricts an owner’s ability to evict a tenant for non-payment of rent if the tenant can demonstrate that the failure to pay is due to financial impacts related to COVID-19. In addition, the ordinance restricts no-fault evictions unless necessary for the health and safety of tenants, neighbors or the landlord. “No-fault eviction” refers to any eviction for which the notice to terminate tenancy is not based on alleged fault by the tenant, according to the ordinance.
“As a result of the public health emergency and the precautions recommended by health authorities, many tenants in Beverly Hills have experienced or expect soon to experience sudden and unexpected income loss,” the ordinance states.
There are strict requirements for tenants to prove that they have experienced financial impacts related to COVID-19. Those impacts “include, but are not limited to, lost household income or extraordinary expenses as a result of any of the following: (1) being sick with COVID-19, or caring for a household or family member who is sick with COVID-19; (2) lay-off, loss of hours, or other substantial income reduction resulting from business closure or other economic or employer impacts of COVID-19 including for tenants who are salaried employees or self-employed; (3) compliance with a recommendation from a government health authority to stay home, self-quarantine, or avoid congregating with others during the state of emergency; (4) extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses related to COVID-19; or (5) child care needs arising from school closures related to COVID-19.”
In order for tenants to avail themselves to the ordinance’s protections, a landlord must receive written notice of the tenant’s inability to pay full rent due to COVID-19 within seven days after the rent is due. In addition, within 30 days after the rent is due, the tenant must provide written documentation to support the claim using a form provided by the City both to the landlord as well as to the City’s Rent Stabilization office. The ordinance further states that because some residential tenants may not be aware of this ordinance’s provisions, the Deputy Director of the Rent Stabilization may extend the seven-day deadline for notifying the landlord for up to 30 days. If a landlord has any disagreement with the information provided by the tenant, the landlord has 10 days to notify the tenant of the disagreement in writing, in response to which the tenant has 10 days to file a written appeal to the City on a form provided by the City. The Rent Stabilization Commission is charged with then making a final determination of the dispute.
Nothing in the ordinance relieves the tenant of liability to repay the rent, which is required to be paid in full, less penalty fees, upon one year after the emergency ordinance is cancelled. No fee for the late payment of the rent can be charged by the landlord during the emergency or for one year after the end of the emergency. The ordinance further emphasizes that nothing in the ordinance alters the date of annual rent increases in future years.
According to Morales, 14 complaint forms have been filed with the City by residential tenants unable to pay rent due to COVID-19. She said she anticipated the number of tenants availing themselves to the ordinance’s provisions to increase, noting that as of April 14 the department had received 346 emails or phone calls related to COVID-19 from residential and commercial landlords and tenants.
“The City recognizes this is a very difficult time for so many families in our community. We are working to provide timely information to those affected by the devastating impacts of COVID-19 and will continue to be a resource in the months ahead,” she emphasized.
The ordinance underscores that with further anticipated economic impacts, tenants could be vulnerable to eviction without City- mandated protections. It reads, in pertinent part, “During this local emergency, and in the interest of protecting the public health and preventing transmission of COVID-19, it is essential to avoid unnecessary housing displacement, to protect the City’s affordable housing stock, and to prevent housed individuals from falling into homelessness.”