With the coronavirus pandemic still raging and eviction moratorium on residential and commercial tenants set to expire at the end of January, West Hollywood’s City Council on Monday night unanimously approved extending those eviction protections. However the protections for residential tenants was done in an unusual way.
The statewide residential eviction moratorium is set to expire on Jan. 31 (a Sunday). However, the state legislature is currently debating AB 15, which would extend the residential eviction moratorium until the end of 2021. That bill is expected to be approved and Gov. Gavin Newsom has indicated he supports it.
The Council discussed creating a citywide residential eviction moratorium just in case AB 15 is not approved. However, the Council saw no point in having city staff draft a local ordinance that would be superseded by the state bill that seems sure to pass and would have different provisions from a local bill.
So, the Council opted to wait and see what Sacramento does. If the state doesn’t pass AB 15, the Council can hurriedly pass a local residential eviction moratorium at its next meeting on Feb. 1 (a Monday).
However, if the state eviction ban is not extended, Councilmember Sepi Shyne worried what landlords might try to do during that one-day time period between the state moratorium expiring and the Council’s next meeting when it would pass a new residential moratorium. So, the Council gave emergency authority to City Manager Paul Arevalo to issue a local eviction moratorium as a stop gap measure if necessary.
The upshot is residential tenants do NOT have to fear being evicted at the end of the month – if the state doesn’t extend the eviction moratorium, the city will. The Council sympathized with how stressful the uncertainty can be for tenants so assured that one way or another, tenants will be protected.
A city survey showed that about 2,500 residential households, approximately 14% of the city’s tenants, have not been able to pay full rent during the pandemic. That survey also showed some landlords have offered rent discounts or forgiven past owed rent, but have also had to borrow money to cover their expenses due to rent losses.
The city offers a rental assistance program to tenants unable to pay rent due to the pandemic. To date, the city has funded $1,220,607.40 in emergency rental assistance. More information about the rental assistance program is available at: https://www.weho.org/services/social-services/financial-assistance
With the city’s eviction moratorium on commercial tenants due to expire on Jan. 31, the Council unanimously approved extending the commercial eviction moratorium until March 31.
However, commercial tenants that are not operating under any state or county-imposed occupancy restrictions must pay at least 25% of the rent due. Commercial tenants must also provide documentation of COVID-related financial hardships to their landlord each month.
Under the city’s commercial eviction moratorium, commercial tenants with 20 or fewer employees have 12 months to repay any back rent owed. Meanwhile commercial tenants with 21 or more employees have six months to repay any back rent.
The city is funding mediation services between landlords and tenants through the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. However, to date, few businesses have used that service; city staff speculates that is because of the limbo situation businesses are currently in, uncertain about their future. City staff expects more businesses to use the mediation services once the commercial moratorium expires.
To help landlords who aren’t receiving rental income on their property but still must pay property taxes, Councilmember Lauren Meister suggested approaching the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors about deferring or lowering property taxes.
However, City Manager Paul Arevalo noted that sales and property taxes are about the only income the cities across Los Angeles County have coming in to support services and said the Supervisors were unlikely to approve that. He said the cities must keep putting pressure on the federal government to provide help for landlords and tenants.
The Council also approved authorizing $5,000 grants to small businesses with 50 or fewer employees that have not previously received any county, state or federal relief funds related to the coronavirus pandemic or any of the city’s OUT Zone funding. City staff estimates about 200 local businesses will qualify for the grants. Staff will return with a detailed plan for those grants at the next Council meeting.