As the end of a moratorium on state evictions has created uncertainty for Marin’s indebted tenants, county officials say they are working to get relief for those in need.
The moratorium, which expired Thursday, prohibited landlords from evicting people for unpaid rent due to COVID-related difficulties. Now, tenants in arrears can only be protected against evictions if they have requested assistance.
“We are seeing a lot of anxiety from tenants in our community,” Leelee Thomas, a county planning official overseeing the distribution of COVID-19 aid. “It’s important for people to know that there are protections going on. “
These protections, contained in Assembly Bill 832, extend until March 31. Chief among these is the requirement that landlords seek government rent assistance to cover unpaid rent before suing for eviction.
The law also requires that the eviction process be stayed if a tenant who owes rent has requested government relief payments.
“We know what the law says on paper,” said Lucie Hollingsworth, senior counsel at Legal Aid of Marin, “but how it’s going to work in reality, no one knows.”
Hollingsworth said once a tenant is approved for help, an eviction case will be dismissed.
“We tell every tenant, even if they think they won’t qualify, to apply just to postpone an eviction,” she said.
AB 832 clarified that tenants had to pay 25% of the unpaid rent incurred from September 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021, to benefit from eviction protection. Hollingsworth said judges could be lenient in interpreting this requirement when cases come before them.
Thomas said the county has distributed about $ 10 million of the $ 33 million in federal and state funds allocated to him for rent relief. The county provided assistance to about 750 of the 2,100 rental households who requested help paying their rent or money owed for utilities. Thomas said an additional $ 5.1 million in relief payments was being processed.
Government rent assistance funds can be used to pay off utility debts. Some 171,000 Marin residents are behind collective payments of $ 8.5 million to Pacific Gas & Electric Co. The municipal water district of Marin owes more than $ 2.9 million in late payments.
Thomas said it is important for tenants in debt to know that the distribution of rent assistance funds did not end with the moratorium on evictions.
“We’re going out about $ 250,000 to $ 300,000 a week right now,” she said.
The county will prioritize all claims filed by people whose owners are trying to evict them.
“Those, even if they are applying now, are going to take the lead,” Thomas said. People who only earn 30% of the region’s median income will be next in line.
Financial assistance is also available for people who have gone into debt to pay their rent. In such cases, the money can be applied towards future rent.
“Households just need to show that they’ve had this impact from COVID,” Thomas said. “The goal is to make the documentation threshold fairly low. The assumption is that if someone has a very low income, it is likely that they have been affected by COVID. “
The county is stepping up efforts to provide relief money to those in need. County supervisors on Tuesday authorized the Canal Alliance payment of more than $ 500,000 to help with the effort. The association will provide five employees for 12 months to help process rental assistance requests. The money comes from state and federal funds earmarked for rent assistance.
The county intends to contract with other nonprofits to provide similar assistance in reaching Marin residents in other parts of the county.
Angela Nicholson, assistant administrator for Marin County, said based on the number of low-income residences, the county concluded that there were many more tenants eligible for the program than applicants.
“Honestly, with the state money seemingly available for the repayment of overdue rents, there isn’t much financial incentive to pursue an eviction,” said Joby Tapia, secretary of the Marin Rental Property Association. . “I would say the effort is best spent right now in trying to get the repayment funds. “
Tapia said that in addition to the tenant protections contained in AB 832, any landlord seeking eviction would face an extremely crowded Marin County Superior Court.
“Good luck getting a court date before 2022,” he said. “Residential evictions are really a side issue for the courts right now. “
But the court’s director general, James Kim, said: “We are not aware of any backlog.”
“We deal with all new complaints of illegal detainees as they arise,” he said, referring to the deportation actions.
AB 832 prohibits local courts from adopting new moratoriums on evictions until March 31.
Meredith Parnell, a civic organization leader from the Marin organizing committee, said she “recognizes the county’s hands are tied by AB 832”.
“But we are urging the county to consider strengthening our current just cause order and other measures, including more funding for legal services, to better protect our tenants,” Parnell said.
A year ago, supervisors allocated $ 310,000 to Legal Aid of Marin to provide services to low-income tenants.
“Right now our housing lawyers and paralegals are completely underwater,” Hollingsworth said. The association only has two lawyers and three paralegals available to work on eviction cases.
Hollingsworth said his biggest worry was that tenants who owed money would self-evict.
“The yard is scary,” she said. “How many tenants are just going to move out instead of going to court and asserting their rights?
Hollingsworth said this was a particular risk for undocumented tenants who have to repay rent.
“Our main focus this week has been to educate tenants on their rights,” she said. “Undocumented migrants have as much right to safe and livable living conditions as anyone else. “