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California’s rent relief is anything but a level playing field

Renters throughout California breathed a sigh of relief when legislators, characteristically in their 11th hour, reluctantly agreed with Gov. Gavin Newsom to extend eviction protections through the end of June, provided that tenants lost income due to COVID-19 and pay 25 percent of what they owe to their landlord.

The bill also provides $2.6 billion in rent relief that came from federal funds to cover 80 percent of their unpaid rent from April 2020 to March 2021. The only caveat is that they have to forgive the remaining balances. Tenants can use that fund to cover utilities and a quarter of future rent from April to June of 2021.

To make matters worse, many landlords, a vast majority in rent-controlled units, are refusing federal rent relief in favor of harassing non-paying tenants to force them to leave or outright evict them. Property owners/managers who choose to accept the financial help do not have the restrictions that tenants have, providing a significant advantage to landlords, particularly those who own multiple properties or corporations.

Apparently, members of the legislature are experiencing a form of “buyer’s remorse” as many of their concerns have become realities. The tenants who were determined to pay their rent by taking out loans ended up with significant debt loads that, according to the law, make them ineligible for relief, along with those who leave their homes for cheaper spaces.

Protections for tenants will end on June 30, with landlords likely ramping up eviction proceedings commencing in July. Tenants who benefited from the 25 percent allocation will have to deal with the 75 percent in remaining balances.

The clock that has favored landlords is ticking.