Pandemic-era protection for residential renters in the city of San Diego went into effect in May. It stopped evictions in situations where tenants were paying rent and respecting lease agreements.
San Diego’s residential no-fault eviction moratorium expired Friday, expanding the list of reasons a landlord can cite to terminate tenancy or evict a tenant.
The moratorium, which went into effect on May 22 as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, had curtailed landlords’ options to pursue evictions, allowing them only in situations where a tenant didn’t pay rent or violated a rental agreement. It blocked landlords from ending tenancies if they wanted to take the property off the rental market or make significant repairs. Now the law reverts to the previous eviction regulations.
Alan Pentico, the executive director of the Southern California Rental Housing Association, said contracts between landlords and tenants should be enforceable, without government intervention.
“Leases or rental agreements are contracts, and if you continually undermine the contract, then why would someone get into this business and provide rental housing?” he said.
He added, “We absolutely sympathize with those that are being impacted by this, but it’s a give and take on all sides.”
Gilberto Vera, an attorney with Legal Aid Society of San Diego, said letting no-fault evictions resume will result in people losing their homes even when they follow rules and pay rent.
“These are tenants who have not done anything wrong,” Vera said. “They are current with their rent and abiding by the lease.” Vera added he worries evictions will rise after the ban ends, both from new tenancy terminations and from eviction cases that had been paused in courts over the summer.
Advocacy groups that support protections for San Diego tenants had pushed for an extension of the moratorium.
Jose Lopez, the director of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment-San Diego, said that the characteristics of today’s rental market — with rents significantly higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic and wages that have trailed — mean people who are told to relocate might not have enough money saved up to pay for a security deposit and today’s higher rents.
“We are still in a pandemic, where most people are still struggling to get back on their feet. Tenants cannot afford to relocate with the high cost of rent and the strict requirements to find new housing,” Lopez said.
“If the City Council does not move fast to extend the moratorium or pass a permanent tenant protection ordinance, we will see a huge rise in homelessness, the people in our community will be displaced, and we will continue to lose the little affordable housing that remains,” Lopez said.
City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera, in a written statement, told the Union-Tribune the eviction moratorium is ending at a difficult time for San Diego renters:
“Housing is a fundamental human need and the foundation for a stable life. San Diego is in the midst of a housing affordability and related homelessness crisis. As a community, we cannot afford to have families who are making their rent payments and abiding by their leases forced out of their homes.
“Unfortunately, we are hearing that some predatory apartment owners are circling tenants like sharks wanting to evict them just so they can take advantage of the market and jack up the rent. That is all the evidence that anyone should need as to why tenant protections need to be strengthened,” he continued.
“Our office is working to strengthen tenant protections as soon as possible.”
The eviction ban expired days after the county declared homelessness a public health crisis.
On Tuesday, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors unanimously declared homelessness a public health crisis, a move the board said will create a more unified, regional approach to the problem.
In another unanimous vote, supervisors also approved a $3 million pilot program to provide $500 a month to 220 seniors to help them avoid homelessness over 18 months.
In a related legal development, on Wednesday a federal judge upheld the temporary eviction ban, which had been challenged in court by two plaintiffs, a landlord and a hair salon operator, who claimed that COVID-19 era executive orders issued by former Mayor Kevin Faulconer violated their rights. The ruling, by U.S. District Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz, found that the complaint had no legal basis.
Up until June 30 under California’s eviction moratorium, renters across the state were protected from eviction for nonpayment of rent due to COVID-19. San Diego’s no-fault measure added additional protections not covered under the state measure.
According to the San Diego Housing Commission, evictions were not allowed in San Diego until September 30, 2022, or 60 days after the end of the local state of emergency declared by the mayor due to the COVID-19 pandemic, whichever date occurred first.
Both landlord and renter advocates said there is great potential for reforming San Diego’s eviction system.
Laura Ann Fernea, the director of the San Diego Eviction Prevention Collaborative, said more tenant protections are also called for.
The city has a tenant Right to Know Ordinance, which is designed to “protect the rights of long-term residential tenants by limiting grounds for their eviction and requiring landlords to provide notice of such grounds.”
The ordinance, not updated since 2004, “doesn’t provide enough protections for tenants,” Fernea wrote in an email. “It requires tenants to reside in an apartment/house for at least 24 months before they get any Just Cause protections. This law also doesn’t provide any relocation assistance, which is provided in the rest of the county and state.”
Even though evictions without cause can resume, not every tenancy termination is legal. For example, landlords cannot evict someone as a form of retaliation if a tenant asks for repairs.
Tenants who get notices to vacate and can’t afford to pay for a lawyer can turn to Legal Aid or other local legal clinics for representation and advice. The San Diego Eviction Prevention Collaborative runs periodic tenant rights workshops. Information is at Housing Help SD.
U-T staff writer Gary Warth contributed to this report.