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April 23, 2020


Richmond council rejects suspending rent, mortgage payments

April 22, 2020

Richmond council considers suspending rents, mortgages
Richmond City Hall
By Mike Kinney

Richmond City Council on Tuesday rejected an emergency order that would suspend all rents and mortgages in Richmond for the duration of the COVID-19 shelter-in-place. Instead, the council voted in favor of protections similar to what the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors passed earlier Tuesday.

The Board of Supervisors passed an emergency law applying to all 19 cities and unincorporated areas, Supervisor John Gioia said in an eUpdate.

The law, according to the supervisor, prohibits evictions for nonpayment for residential and commercial tenants impacted physically or economically by the COVID-19 pandemic; bans “no-fault” evictions “except to protect the health and safety of the owner or another tenant, or to allow the owner or their immediate family to move into the residential unit”; temporarily freezes rent increases, although state law prevents the freeze from applying to single family homes or residences built within the last 15 years; provides tenants impacted by the pandemic a 120-day grace period to pay back rent; and nixes late fees for unpaid rent for impacted residents. These rules apply through May 31, unless extended by the Board of Supervisors.

Despite the County ordinance, which can be read in full here, a city can implement stricter rules protecting renters if it chooses.
While Richmond Councilmembers Melvin Willis and Eduardo Martinez proposed to suspend all rent and mortgage payments during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place period, the rest of the council voted against the idea, concerned over its legality and the consequences of mounting unpaid debt.

Resident Leisa Johnson called the proposals “well-intentioned” but believes there are better solutions, such as a rental assistance program for struggling residents.

Mayor Tom Butt added that substantial protections for homeowners, renters and businesses relating to mortgages, rents and evictions have already been enacted by the federal government, Judicial Council of California, the governor and Contra Costa County – as well as Richmond.

“We are, in addition, a full rent control and just cause city,” the mayor said. He called proposals by his colleagues “redundant” and at times “unconstitutional.”

“They look at the pandemic as an opportunity to push through egregious legislation that almost totally targets landlords,” Butt said. “To them, landlords are fundamentally greedy and evil and need to be totally controlled and punished. I don’t think they grasp the economic reality that makes developers and building owners a critical part of the system that provides housing for everyone.”

Mayor Butt noted the challenges of homelessness and housing cost in California and believes everyone should share the burden.

“Take homelessness, if we put every California homeless person in an apartment with a rental rate of $1,500 a month, the total cost would be $2.7 billion a year,” the mayor said. “If that cost were borne by every California household, it would cost each of California’s 11 million households $20 a month. If the cost was shared progressively, the wealthier households would pay more, making it affordable for all. Why aren’t we doing this? Lack of political will and political leadership. We could solve this problem tomorrow in the state that is the world’s 5th largest economy and richest state.”

Coronavirus: Richmond agrees to stop rent increases, denies rent suspension

Temporary moratorium during pandemic

By Angela Ruggiero | | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: April 21, 2020 at 11:00 p.m. | UPDATED: April 22, 2020 at 2:59 p.m.

RICHMOND — In a contentious meeting, the Richmond City Council temporarily banned rent increases but voted down the idea of suspending rents entirely during the COVID-19 crisis.

On Tuesday, council members amended an already existing eviction moratorium passed earlier this month that will now include a stop to any rent increases in the city for both residential and commercial properties. The motion passed, but with Mayor Tom Butt and Councilman Demnlus Johnson voting “no” and Vice Mayor Nathaniel Bates abstaining from the vote.

During the discussion, Johnson accused Councilmen Melvin Willis and Eduardo Martinez, who introduced the proposals to both halt rent increases and suspend rent payments to the council, of being ill-prepared to present such a topic and not having done enough research. Earlier on Tuesday, Contra Costa County supervisors passed a similar countywide eviction moratorium and rent increase freeze. The county’s ordinance will cover all cities in Contra Costa County unless they opt out or create their own regulations.

Johnson argued that there was no need for the city to pass its own regulations because of the county’s ordinance. His main points were against Willis, who suggested that the city also instate an 180-day grace period for renters to pay back rent for each month the city was under the shelter-in-place order. For example, if the order lasted throughout April and May, the renters would have an entire year to pay rent owed for those months. Johnson argued there was no evidence to support that a 180-day time period policy would be effective.

“We’re just supposed to take your word for it?” Johnson said, referring to the 180-day time frame, as Willis also talked over him during the video-conference council meeting.

The council did not end up adopting the six-month grace period.

Willis responded that the council meeting was a democratic process open for discussion, and apologized. “No need to apologize. Your lack of preparation speaks for itself,” Johnson responded.

A majority of the council rejected the idea of allowing residents to not pay rent or mortgages during the shelter-in-place order, money they would not have to pay back later. The city attorney warned that the city ordering rents and mortgages to be suspended could be unconstitutional and “those are not items without legal risk.”

“What this item would do, honestly, it would be a lawsuit,” said Councilman Jael Myrick.

Myrick and Bates said this was a topic for other authorities to take up, such as Congress, not a local government.

“We are a small fish in the fry,” Bates said.

Martinez, in presenting the proposal, said the city was under an extreme situation and it demanded extreme solutions. “We are not business as usual,” he said.

San Jose City Council recently considered a similar rent suspension for three months for tenants unable to pay because of the coronavirus. That city’s proposal would have relieved tenants of their obligation to pay back the rent after the shelter-in-place was lifted. The San Jose council withdrew the proposal after its city attorney warned that it could be considered unconstitutional.
The Richmond council on Tuesday also postponed voting on a sewer rate increase, with some council members voicing concern about the effect on residents who may not be working during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order. The first reading of the ordinance to increase rates by 7% each year for the next five years (through fiscal year 2024-25) will take place on May 19.

Contra Costa County suspends evictions, rent increases amid coronavirus shutdown

The ordinance gives renters a grace period to pay back rent owed

By Annie Sciacca | | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: April 21, 2020 at 5:13 p.m. | UPDATED: April 22, 2020 at 2:28 p.m.

Contra Costa County on Tuesday approved an urgency ordinance that temporarily prohibits evictions of residential and commercial tenants affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and stops rent increases.

The ordinance is similar to those already passed by San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda and Santa Clara counties, as well as some cities including Oakland, Concord, Richmond Pittsburg and Antioch.

The ordinance bars landlords and sublessors from kicking out tenants who fail to pay rent if they can show they lost income or have to field “substantial” medical expenses related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tenants must provide documentation to prove their loss of income or out-of-pocket medical expenses, according to the ordinance. Supervisors said a form, like one Santa Clara County has created, could quickly be made available on the county website for renters to use. Other documentation could include pay stubs, bank statements or a notice from an employer.

The ordinance also prevents property owners from terminating tenancies for any reason not based on “an alleged fault of the tenant,” except in cases where an owner or a member of the owner’s family wants to move into the unit or where an eviction is necessary to protect the health and safety of the owner or another tenant.

In addition, landlords cannot collect late-rent fees from tenants affected by COVID-19 for 120 days after the ordinance expires on May 31. The ordinance also gives those tenants 120 days to pay the owed rent without facing eviction.

The ordinance also freezes rent increases through May 31 at apartments built more than 15 years ago. State law prevents the freeze from applying to residences built within the last 15 years, single family homes, owner-occupied duplexes, hotels, senior or adult residential care facilities, school dorms, group housing, townhouses or condos that are not owned by a corporation, investment trust or LLC.

On April 5, the Judicial Council of California issued an emergency order that effectively halted residential and commercial evictions statewide until 90 days after the governor lifts the COVID-19 state of emergency.  The order prohibits a court from proceeding with eviction cases unless they’re deemed necessary to protect public health and safety. In addition, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order prohibiting landlords from evicting tenants who can’t pay because of COVID-19 through May 31.

But renters and tenant advocates have asked Contra Costa for weeks to offer further protections, and dozens spoke at Tuesday’s meeting praising the ordinance while urging supervisors to extend the grace period for paying owed rent.

“It is important for you to increase grace period to at least a year or 120 days per month (of lost income),” Dolores Ramos, a county resident and single mother, wrote in a letter to the board that was read aloud Tuesday.

With her work hours reduced to part-time, she said it’s difficult to come up with the money to pay bills, including rent, and the requirements to provide notice and documentation to landlords is burdensome.

Some tenants said they fear that when the shelter-in-place order eventually expires, it’ll be too difficult to pay back rent in just 120 days.

Supervisor John Gioia supported lengthening the grace period to six months, but the full board decided to stick with 120 days and reconsider the issue if the shelter order is extended.

In a letter to the board last week, Contra Costa County Employment and Human Services Department director Kathy Gallagher noted the Contra Costa Crisis Center fielded a 171% increase in calls related to rental assistance and evictions last month compared to March 2019; about 60 percent of them involved landlords demanding payments.

Some property owners also wrote to the board Tuesday, saying the loss of rental income would be a hardship for them too.

The supervisors said they want to explore ways to help landlords with mortgage relief or provide information about small business loans but did not discuss specific solutions.

“I do know people who have put their retirement into (property) ownership. So they’re reliant on rental and lease money for that income,” District 5 Supervisor Federal Glover said.

The California Apartment Association, which opposed the Judicial Council’s move to halt eviction proceedings during the crisis, has sponsored a bill that would make the state pay up to 80 percent of rent that can’t be paid because of COVID-19 impacts.