Leslye Corsiglia, Executive Director of SV@Home, encourages county supervisors to decouple the county’s eviction moratorium ordinance from the governor’s executive order in order to provide clarity and certainty to both tenants and property owners.

By KEVIN FORESTIERI │ Mountain View Voice
PUBLISHED: May 30, 2020, 11:26 am

Cities and counties throughout California are racing to extend emergency rules prohibiting landlords from evicting tenants for nonpayment of rent due to the coronavirus pandemic, with hopes of preventing mass displacement as millions of residents statewide have lost work.

Mountain View is no exception, passing an extension at a special meeting Friday evening.

The eviction moratorium put in place in Santa Clara County in March — a similar action taken in Mountain View, Palo Alto and San Jose that same month — was seen as a safeguard to keep renters housed during severe shelter in place rules. By some estimates, as many as 126,000 renters in the region may have been impacted by the pandemic and shutdown of all nonessential businesses.

Fearing that a wave of evictions could further exacerbate the public health crisis, county supervisors passed sweeping restrictions to prevent the eviction of commercial or residential tenants who can prove a loss of income due to the coronavirus. The rules extend to all of Santa Clara County, both cities and unincorporated areas.

But with the moratorium set to expire on May 31 and only a limited easing of public health restrictions so far, county supervisors agreed last week to extend the moratorium until Aug. 31 — though the scope of the moratorium remained murky. That’s because Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order granting cities and counties broad authority to impose eviction moratoriums, and that order was set to expire on May 31. Newsom had not yet indicated whether he planned to extend the order.

Absent the executive order, cities and counties would still be empowered to impose an eviction moratorium for residential tenants, but would no longer be able to extend those same protections to commercial tenants.

Housing advocates say the county’s protection of renters should not be contingent on Newsom’s actions, and that the ban on residential evictions should proceed until August, independent of statewide edicts.

“In order to provide clarity and certainty to both tenants and property owners, we recommend that the county ordinance be decoupled from the governor’s executive order,” said Leslye Corsiglia, executive director of SV@Home, in an email to supervisors.

On Friday evening at 8 p.m., Newsom announced that the executive order would be extended to July 28.

Several cities are following suit. On Friday, May 29, the Mountain View City Council voted unanimously to extend its own eviction moratorium through August 31, largely mirroring the county rules but with a few notable exceptions. The city measure covers mobile home renters and mobile home owners who rent space at a mobile home park.

City Attorney Krishan Chopra said cities including Mountain View are increasingly taking the ban on evictions into their own hands, due to the lack of clarity from Newsom on whether statewide protections will continue through the summer or suddenly lapse starting Monday next week.

“What has become clear as the COVID crisis evolves is that cities and counties are taking increasingly independent and individualized action under their own police powers and legal authority granted to them under emergency circumstances,” Chopra said.

Other cities that have extended or plan to extend their own eviction moratoriums include Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and San Jose. Palo Alto’s moratorium remains in effect until the city’s state of emergency expires.

Cities are allowed to impose stronger renter protections than the countywide ordinance, but cannot shift the rules in favor of landlords.

When is rent due?

What remains in flux is when tenants will have to pay off deferred rent payments, with the possibility that the deadline could be extended deep into 2021.

Under the original county ordinance in March, back rent accumulated since April had to be entirely paid off within 120 days from the end of the moratorium, prompting fears among housing advocates and nonprofit leaders that it could create a ticking time bomb of mass evictions in September. County officials are currently exploring ways to extend that period from 120 days to a full year, likely by making partial payments mandatory along the way.

In the case of San Jose’s eviction moratorium, half of back rent owed would be due at the end of Jan. 2021, with the remaining amount due by the end of June 2021. Tenants can also ink a voluntary agreement with their landlord outlining a payment plan independent of city and county ordinances.

Mountain View took a more modest approach on Friday, extending the payback period from 120 days to 180 days. It’s unclear whether a modified county grace period would supersede the city’s adjusted rent relief schedule.

Emily Hislop, who manages Mountain View’s landlord-tenant mediation and city helpline, said people from all walks of life have been calling with concerns about being unable to pay rent because of COVID-19. Everyone is panicked for a myriad of reasons, she said, and much of it has to do with uncertainty.

What has been clear, Hislop said, is that the city’s grace period needs to be extended.

“One-hundred twenty days is not going to be enough time to repay the amount they have accrued during the shelter in place,” she said.

Partly fueling the calls for an extension is that massive amounts of financial assistance are slowly making their way to needy renters, who may depend on public assistance in order to pay off otherwise insurmountable debt.

When the nonprofit Destination: Home launched an $11 million financial assistance program to help families behind on the bills because of COVID-19, demand far exceeded the available funding, and it took several weeks to get through the backlog. The latest data shows the money only made it to about 4,500 of the 17,500 households seeking help through the nonprofit’s fund.

Mountain View’s own $2.6 million rent relief program has been humming along, but has yet to reach many of the families that have applied thus far. As of last week, the nonprofit Community Services Agency (CSA) had helped pay the rent of more than 500 families in the city, totaling $1.2 million, but more than 1,000 applications remain in the queue.

In the lead-up to the Mountain View City Council meeting Friday, CSA Executive Director Tom Myers urged council members to support an urgency ordinance to give his nonprofit more time to help needy families. It would also stave off homelessness and increasing poverty that would result if the moratorium were to suddenly end on Sunday.

“When our residents are secure in their housing, the whole community is safer, healthier and in a better economic position,” Myers said.

With the county rules shifting away from commercial tenants on May 31 and cities adopting their own versions of the moratorium, renters are being encouraged to stay informed and understand the extent of the protections. In a Zoom conference call Friday, Michael Trujillo of the nonprofit Law Foundation of Silicon Valley said tenants faced with an eviction notice for nonpayment should have documentation ready to show that they have lost income as a result of COVID-19.

“This will allow you to access protections under the county’s moratorium,” Trujillo said.

Renters who aren’t on the lease and rent a room are also protected under the ordinance, as are those renting units in homes or apartment complexes of any size, Trujillo said.

Renters and landlords in Mountain View seeking information or advice on the moratorium are encouraged to tap into the city’s helpline services available online.