COVID-19 Rent Deferment
The City of San Diego has instituted a temporary moratorium on residential and commercial evictions, due to nonpayment of rent. It is based on when the tenant demonstrates a substantial decrease in income or substantial out-of-pocket medical expenses, resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
A landlord shall not take any action to evict a tenant; if the tenant provided written notice to the landlord, on or before the rent was due, that payment cannot be made due to the pandemic. The tenant will have one week to provide the landlord documentation, or objectively verifiable information, that the tenant is unable to pay rent due to the financial impact relating to COVID-19. If this documentation is provided, no legal action can be brought to recover rent or late charges or to bring forth an eviction action. A tenant, who is afforded protection under this ordinance, will have up to six months to repay this rent deferment. The six month period commences from the time that Governor Newsom declares the emergency is over. This ordinance covered the period through May 31, 2020 unless extended.
If the tenant does not show proper documentation, a landlord is free to pursue legal action.
Tenant Requesting Repairs
Even though your tenant may be entitled to defer rent payments up to six months, landlords are still obligated to maintain the premises. A lack of income does not excuse the obligations of the landlord. Landlords during this pandemic are required to make repairs, pay for water, sewer and trash services. In addition, they need to maintain the premises, pay property taxes and of course make their mortgage payments.
Accessing the Premises to Make Repairs
One of my clients received an Order to Comply from Building and Safety to make a repair inside an apartment unit. The tenant, who was the one that made the complaint, was served a 24 hour access notice. This tenant is now stating that due to the Coronavirus, she will not allow anyone into her unit. Of course my client is facing a deadline to complete the repair. Based on the State of Emergency, I do not believe that a court would force a tenant to allow workmen into a unit, even upon the service of a proper access notice. I advised my client to discuss this with the Building & Safety Inspector and to ask for an extension until the pandemic is declared over.
Request to Terminate a Lease
Many tenants have been asking landlords to terminate their lease, due to the Coronavirus. A desire to relocate as a result of a job termination is their stated reason. Be advised that a loss of employment does not relieve a tenant from the obligations of their lease. While rent can be deferred for up to six months, the law does not allow for rent forgiveness. A landlord can make an economic decision to do so, but it is not required.
Judicial Council Delays All Eviction Cases
Apparently, without legal authority, the California Judicial Council has delayed the prosecution of all unlawful detainer actions. Wikipedia defines this body as follows:
The Judicial Council of California is the rule-making arm of the California court system. In accordance with the California Constitution and under the leadership of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of California, the council is responsible for “ensuring the consistent, independent, impartial, and accessible administration of justice.”
Pursuant to the Emergency Rule as instituted by the Judicial Council, a court may not issue a summons on a complaint for unlawful detainer. By not allowing the issuance of a summons, an eviction action cannot be served. This rule is applicable to all unlawful detainer cases, regardless if it is unrelated to the pandemic. A health and safety issue would be the only exception. Additional Emergency Rules have also been promulgated to prevent existing unlawful detainer actions from being completed. These Emergency Rules are set to expire NINETY DAYS after the Governor declares the State of Emergency over.
If a homeowner has sold his tenant occupied house, the Emergency Rules as enacted by the Judicial Council, will have a dramatic effect on the ability to complete the sale. If a tenant has been served a proper 60-Day Notice to Vacate, the landlord will not have the ability to enforce the termination notice. While an eviction action can be filed, the court will not issue a summons, preventing the landlord from attaining possession. Clearly, if possession cannot be delivered to the buyer, the sale could be lost. Again, the issuance of the summons is not related to the effects of the pandemic as it applies to all unlawful detainer actions.
Tenant Withholding Rent
If your tenant has failed to pay rent prior to March, 2020, the tenant will be prevented from using the pandemic as an excuse to defer rent payments. Clearly, the effects of COVID-19 could not have been an issue for the payment of the February rent. In those cases, my firm has been serving a 3 day notice to pay the February rent. Thereafter a lawsuit is filed, though a summons will not be issued. A copy of the lawsuit is then sent to the tenant with a letter, inviting the tenant to contact the landlord to settle the matter. In many cases, this has had the effect of resolving the issue, as the tenant knows that a lawsuit has been filed.
Dennis Block, of Dennis P. Block & Associates can be reached for information on landlord/tenant law or evictions at any of the following offices: Los Angeles: 323.938.2868, Encino: 818.986.3147, Inglewood: 310.673.2996, Long Beach: 310.434.5000, Ventura: 805.653.7264, Pasadena: 626.798.1014, Orange: 714.634.8232, San Diego: 619.481.5423 or by visiting www.evict123.com. Now, you can also read Dennis Block on Twitter, www.twitter.com/dennisblock or text him at (818) 570-1557. “Landlord Tenant Radio Weekly Podcasts can be heard at any time at www.EVICT123.com or download the app “EVICT123”.