While there are good general practices to follow if you can't pay your rent, Federal, state and local governments have also enacted a flurry of COVID-19 emergency tenant protections. Most merely delay evictions for struggling tenants. But some local ordinances completely ban evictions (in certain circumstances), and many require landlords to offer payment plans. None of these protections relieve the obligation to pay rent-they just temporarily (in most cases) prevent your landlord from evicting you.
Starting at the Federal level, check what (if any) protections apply to you and work your way down the list. Generally, the "closer to home" you get (e.g., county or city level), the stronger protections you'll find.
Under the Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed last March, landlords with federally backed (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or HUD) mortgages or who participate in federally assisted rental housing programs, were prevented from starting eviction actions or collecting fees/penalties from tenants based on non-payment of rent. Qualifying tenants also apparently could not be served with "no-cause" lease terminations.
These moratoriums, covering roughly 50% of all rental properties, expired on 7/24/20. The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) instituted a similar moratorium which included single family homes financed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. The moratorium on single family homes is set to expire 8/31/20 .
Congress is currently negotiating the next round of Federal Coronavirus relief legislation - which may extend the moratoriums - but for now landlords can begin serving 30 day notices for tenants to vacate. And unless Congress takes action, starting 8/24/20 landlords can begin filing evictions.
If you live in a property with four or less units, contact your landlord regarding the type of financing on the property. If you live in a property with five or more units, use the Multifamily Loan Lookup Tools on the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac web pages to search your unit's address. You should check both websites.
Even if your unit is covered by a financing relief moratorium, you are still responsible for paying full rent. You may get more relief at the state or local level.
On 3/4/20 Governor Gavin Newsom declared a California-wide state of emergency (N-44-20) that (among other price controls) automatically caps rent increases. Via two additional orders, Newsom also first allowed cities and counties to enact their own tenant protections (3/16/20 Executive Order N-28-20) and then to extend those protections through 9/30/20 if they choose to do so. (6/30/20 Executive Order N-71-20). These local protections are discussed below.
On 4/6/20 the California Judicial Council adopted Emergency Rule 1, which placed an eviction "moratorium" or "freeze" on California courts. Unless necessary to protect public health and safety, an eviction case (residential or commercial) can't proceed either while Newsom's N-44-20 state of emergency remains effective or for 90 days after it ends-even if the eviction is not COVID-19 related. Courts can't issue a summons (which, once served on a tenant starts the eviction clock ticking) or enter a default judgment against a tenant who doesn't respond to a summons. Court trials in pending cases are delayed for at least 60 days. In short, tenants must still pay rent, but cannot be evicted during the freeze period for failing to pay-or for few other reasons either.
Although courts are not taking action on most eviction cases, landlords can still serve tenants with a "Three Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit" and file paperwork with the courts. However, courts won't actually force tenants to vacate until 90 days after the state of emergency is lifted.
As of 8/5/20, Newsom has not said when he will lift the emergency. However, multiple lawsuits challenging the court freeze are pending, and the Judicial Council is considering ending the freeze effective 8/14/20.
Pursuant to Newsom's executive orders, over 150 cities and counties enacted local eviction moratoriums. Most of these moratoriums protect tenants suffering COVID-19 related financial hardships, and many make landlords offer payment plans. Some moratoriums, like those of Alameda County and San Francisco, are true eviction moratoriums, meaning landlords generally can't evict tenants during the emergency even if the failure to pay is unrelated to COVID-19. And, those landlords cannot evict tenants who couldn't pay because of COVID-19 hardships even after the emergency ends.
Some cities and counties have also instituted total bans on rent increases (e.g., Oakland, Concord, Eureka, San Jose, Santa Ana, West Hollywood, Contra Costa County), meaning landlords cannot increase rent at all. See the chart below for more information.
While none of these local ordinances waive or relieve the obligation to pay rent that is due or past-due, they do generally provide the most tenant protections-that is, if your city or county has enacted one.
If your city or county hasn't enacted eviction protections-or any protections have expired or don't apply-you still are protected under the temporary eviction freeze in the courts. Your landlord can file an eviction case against you-it just won't move forward until 90+ days after the state emergency ends. There are some helpful steps you can take in the interim:
California lawmakers have proposed additional tenant protections, but so far none have become law.
This article and the local ordinance chart below were last updated on 8/5/20, but this area of law is rapidly evolving. Local tenant protection ordinances in particular change frequently, and many expired on 5/31/20. Check your county and city government web pages for the most recent information. You should also contact an attorney or tenant organization if you need assistance or more information.