On Tuesday the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will consider legislation to delay evictions caused by lost wages and medical bills related to the coronavirus until 60 days after the county’s COVID-19 declaration of emergency is lifted.
If passed, the proposed legislation, the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Ordinance, will shield residential renters from eviction during the crisis if they can provide proof that they were unable to pay rent due to the economic and/or health impacts of COVID-19.
The county’s ordinance comes after Gov. Gavin Newsom passed an Executive Order last week that allows local governments to pass eviction bans and “requests” that banks stop foreclosure and resulting evictions tied to the COVID-19 crisis. Because Newsom’s order does not directly provide any additional tenant protections, local governments are scrambling to do so.
Some cities, including San Francisco, Sacramento and San Diego, have already passed eviction moratoriums. On Tuesday, the Marin County Board of Supervisors will consider a similar ordinance which covers commercial and residential renters throughout the county—those living in unincorporated areas and within city boundaries.
Here are the highlights of Sonoma County’s ordinance:
Scope: In general, the county’s control over land-use decisions is limited to unincorporated areas outside of city boundaries. However, counties are allowed to implement protections covering cities during a declared health emergency.
For instance, Marin County's ordinance explicitly states that all renters throughout the county are covered, whether or not they live within city bounds.
Alegria De La Cruz, the chief deputy Sonoma County counsel who wrote the ordinance, says the county believes that renters living within city boundaries will be able to use Sonoma County's ordinance as a legal protection.
Proving Lost Income: Under Sonoma County’s ordinance, tenants will have to provide their landlord with proof that they have faced a significant loss of income due or out-of-pocket medical expenses related to COVID-19. Landlords will then use the information to file for mortgage relief.
Payments Delayed, Not Forgiven: The Sonoma County ordinance stresses that “nothing in this ordinance shall relieve a Tenant of the obligation to pay rent, nor restrict an Owner’s ability to recover rent due.”
Time Lag: One of the mysteries of the current wave of eviction moratoriums is how tenants will be able to pay their rent once they return to work after the public health crisis has ended.
Sonoma County’s ordinance requires tenants to repay missed rent within 60 days after the county’s emergency declaration is lifted.
Marin County’s proposal does not define a timeline for repayment.
However, depending on how long the crisis lasts, both proposals could leave tenants with massive bills once life returns to relative normalcy.
Throughout the state, many tenants are already rent burdened, meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent. As a result, it is difficult to imagine how tenants will be able to catch up on missed payments within 60 days of the crisis, even if they return to work immediately after the county's shelter-in-place order is lifted.
Workers who are not eligible to receive state or federal unemployment benefits during the crisis will find themselves in an even more difficult predicament.
Because of this, tenant advocacy groups at the local, state and federal levels are asking for rent and mortgage payments during the crisis to be forgiven or covered in economic-relief packages.
Locally, the Sonoma County Tenants Union and North Bay Organizing Project are asking lawmakers to consider passing “a moratorium on all evictions, rent increases, and foreclosures extended to at least three months after the COVID-19 outbreak is over” in addition to direct rental and mortgage assistance for county residents.
The groups are also requesting that the county “work with banks and credit card corporations to suspend all fees, foreclosures and payments, including mortgages, for residents and small businesses.”
Meanwhile, Tenants Together, a statewide advocacy group, is circulating an online petition requesting in part that “any mortgage relief/deferment must include corresponding rent relief for tenants.”
Odds and Ends: Sonoma County’s ordinance will also allow the Sonoma County Housing Authority to extend application deadlines for certain public housing programs during the crisis.
The Board of Supervisors’ agenda is available here.
The COVID-19 Eviction Defense Ordinance (Item 38), will be considered around 11:30am, according to the agenda.
The meeting will be live streamed online here.