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‘Eviction Tsunami’ Poised to Hit California in 3 Weeks



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SACRAMENTO — Eviction and foreclosure proceedings in California could resume Sept. 1, California’s chief justice announced Tuesday, putting pressure on the state Legislature to pass a law by the end of the month to prevent what many fear could be an “eviction tsunami” similar to the bursting of the housing bubble a decade ago.

The coronaivrus pandemic has prompted government-ordered shutdowns of most businesses, causing more than 9.7 million Californians to file for unemployment benefits since March and preventing many tenants from paying their rent.

Eviction and Foreclosure Proceedings Halted in April

The Judicial Council of California, the court system’s rule-making authority, voted to halt eviction and foreclosure proceedings on April 6 because of the pandemic. The rules were never meant to be a permanent solution, instead buying time for lawmakers to come up with relief for landlords and tenants.

Five months later, state lawmakers still have not agreed on how to handle the looming eviction crisis once the temporary rules end. The Judicial Council had been preparing to rescind the rules on Friday. But state lawmakers on the council, including Democratic Assemblyman Richard Bloom of Santa Monica, lobbied hard for another extension.

California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye announced Tuesday the council would vote Thursday on whether to end the eviction protections Sept. 1 — one day after state lawmakers conclude their work for the year.

“There is nothing like a deadline to get people going,” Bloom said.

Over 5 Million Renters at Risk

California has about 17 million renters, and just over 5 million of them are at risk of eviction, according to an analysis by the Aspen Institute. Many of California’s local governments, including most of its large cities, have passed eviction protections that would extend beyond Sept. 1. But advocates worry some tenants could fall through the cracks without a statewide rule in place.

But that rule can’t come from the courts, Cantil-Sakauye said, because the job of the judicial branch is to interpret laws, not make them.

“I urge our sister branches to act expeditiously to resolve this looming crisis,” she said. “They have had since March 2020 to explore remedies that will provide fairness to all parties while recognizing the limitations the pandemic has placed on our residents and our institutions.”

Legislature Considering Several Bills to Extend Protections

The Democratic-controlled state Legislature is seriously considering two proposals. Both would halt evictions for nonpayment of rent because of the coronavirus. But they differ in how they would compensate landlords for missed rent. An Assembly proposal would protect property owners from foreclosure. A Senate proposal would offer property owners credits that would lower how much they owe in state taxes beginning in 2024. Owners could sell those credits before 2024 if they need cash immediately.

Both proposals face hurdles to reaching the governor’s desk, including opposition from property owners who have likened the Assembly proposal to free rent. Assemblyman David Chiu, author of the proposal, called the negotiations productive but said there are many details yet to be worked out.

“All policy makers understand how dire the situation is,” said Chiu, a Democrat from San Francisco. “We cannot allow a wave of mass evictions. It would be catastrophic for homelessness and COVID-19 spread and we have to act.”

The California Apartment Association opposes Chiu’s bill and is pushing for amendments to the Senate proposal. Debra Carlton, the association’s executive vice president for for state public affairs, said she was encouraged by the Judicial Council’s upcoming vote because it will give property owners “the ability to act when it comes to some of the disruptive tenants.”

“We certainly don’t want to see evictions for nonpayment of rent when a tenant has truly been affected by COVID,” she said.

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