Some of the country’s longest lasting COVID-19 protections against eviction moved closer to ending Wednesday when a Los Angeles City Council committee advanced a measure to repeal the rules at the end of January.
Under the plan, starting Feb. 1, L.A. landlords will once again be able to evict tenants for unpaid rent and other reasons even if tenants have been affected by COVID-19. The city’s current rules have prohibited such evictions since March 2020.
“We must put in place long-term protections for our tenants while still preserving the economic well-being of our small, mom-and-pop landlords,” said Council President Nury Martinez who also chairs the city’s Ad Hoc Committee on COVID-19 Recovery and Neighborhood Investment. “We can’t forget that these policies are intended to ensure that our homeless crisis does not become any worse as a result of the pandemic.”
The full City Council still needs to vote on the plan at an upcoming meeting before it takes effect.
The committee’s decision followed an hour of public testimony from landlords and tenants who pleaded with councilmembers to hear their plight. Many landlords identified themselves as owners of small apartment buildings who have been struggling under the weight of the eviction restrictions for years.
Some said they’ve been unable to move into their own units because of they cannot remove nonpaying tenants. Others described circumstances in which they’re owed tens of thousands of dollars in back rent while also having to pay increased city fees and higher, inflation-driven maintenance costs.
“The economy has fully been reopened. Vaccines are widely available. The president of the United States said the pandemic is over,” said Fred Sutton, a senior vice president at the California Apartment Assn., a landlord trade group. “The conditions of 2020 are completely different than today.”
By contrast, tenants argued that the protections have been a lifeline while dealing with economic and health ravages during the pandemic. Arnulfo Soria, a renter in South L.A., said that he’s lost work and had COVID-19 four times while sharing an apartment with his four children and five grandchildren.
The eviction protections “are the only thing that has kept us from becoming homeless,” said Soria, 52. “Lifting the protections is reckless and inhumane.”
Soria, who is an organizer with tenant group Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, and others pushed the council to add stronger permanent tenant protections before letting the emergency orders expire.
The committee considered a battery of other rental provisions Wednesday. One proposal would allow landlords to resume rent hikes in rent-controlled apartments — about three-quarters of the city’s apartment stock — starting in February 2024. Such increases in those buildings also have not been allowed since March 2020. Committee members also want to consider expanding citywide prohibitions against evicting tenants without documented lease violations to cover more apartments.
Committee members said they were trying to balance the hardships faced by tenants and landlords since the beginning of the pandemic and stressed that the city’s emergency protections have lasted longer than other big cities across the country.
The city housing department first proposed ending the COVID 19 anti-eviction rules at the end of the year. But Wednesday’s action would cover tenants for another month.
“We all know that December is a month with holidays and extra expenses,” said Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who announced he’d be providing an additional $3 million in rental assistance funds to tenants in his district, which covers Echo Park and surrounding areas. “Renters should be given a little extra time to get back on their feet.”