Housing / Land Use

Court order postpones evictions

For a limited time, renters are protected if their inability to pay is related to COVID-19. But they’ll still be responsible for unpaid rent.

With unemployment numbers rising and an uncertain economy ahead, tenants may find their monthly rent payments difficult to manage. A judicial ruling adopted April 6 could help ease the pressure for some renters by postponing a payment, but at a possible cost.

The court held that all judicial foreclosures are stayed, and that “the court may take no action and issue no decisions or judgments unless the court finds that action is required to further the public health and safety.”

The ruling will be effective for two months after Gov. Gavin Newsom lifts the statewide shelter-in-place order.

“The way an eviction process usually works is that the tenant receives a notice to terminate the tenancy,” said Hollister attorney Jeremy Liem, of Pipal Spurzem & Liem LLP. “If the tenant fails to leave the property, the landlord can get an order from a judge to leave the property.”

However, Liem said, “evictions have been stopped for now. The Judicial Council of California, which is a regulatory body for the courts, issued a rule saying courts cannot issue a summons in an eviction.”

But tenants will still owe the unpaid amount and be required to pay it back. 

“If a tenant fails to pay rent, the landlord is still entitled to it,”Liem said. “The concern is that by not paying rent, it will build up and when the order is lifted you will owe all that back rent.”

At that point, landlords can move to evict and even sue to get the money that tenants owe.

Liem suggested local renters check their leases to see if there are any penalty clauses that might add charges to the rent in need of collection.

“Generally, landlords will have late fees built in, indicating you have to pay by the third day or the fifth day. And if payment is not received there would be a late fee,” he said. “There might be a second late fee built in if the rent is not received by the 15th. Those would still need to be paid.”

If a landlord attempts an eviction or attempts to lock a tenant out during the eviction moratorium, they are breaking the law and can be held accountable, Liem said.

“If a landlord tries that, I would call the police department or the sheriff and I would contact an attorney,” he said. “There are civil penalties in the thousands of dollars for landlords who do that.”

Jared McDonald of RAM Property Management understands the landlord’s side of the issue and advised renters to alert their landlords if rent is going to be delayed.

“I think ultimately the challenge is to filter through what we are hearing and all the panic,” he said, “and what it comes down to is communication, needing to be working together.”

Locally, McDonald said the problem seems to be minimal, and that landlords have options for dealing with late payments.

“You could see if they are willing to use security deposits to supplement your payment,” he said. “That’s a good way to help people and let them buy a little time.”

If a tenant can’t pay rent, McDonald suggested contacting the landlord.

“They should just go to the landlord and say ‘I want to bring this to you, I know you are nervous that I am not going to pay rent.’” he said. “Tell them ‘here is my difficulty, here is what I am bringing in right now,’ and provide them with proof and documentation. I think a lot of landlords are going to be pretty flexible.”

Renters can also request that late fees be waived, McDonald said.

“You should be proactive with checking. There is no harm in asking. I know as a landlord I love all my tenants and there is no point in putting them in a worse position.”

McDonald remains hopeful that landlords and tenants will work together to help each other out.

“The landlords are saying ‘we don’t want this to go on. How do we pay our mortgages?’  Working together you should be able to find solutions,” he said.

 

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Robert Eliason

I’ve been a freelance photographer since my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. My dad taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.   I have had gallery showings and done commercial work but photojournalism is a wonderful challenge in storytelling.   The editors at BenitoLink have encouraged me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  It is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community.