Contra Costa extends rent increase, eviction moratorium for tenants

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY — Renters in the county will have a few more months of protection from certain evictions and rent increases after the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted unanimously to extend a temporary ordinance prohibiting them until the end of January 2021.

The ordinance, which will be in effect until January 31, prohibits landlords from increasing residential rents and specifies that landlords cannot end a residential tenancy unless the renters have broken the terms of their contract — with a few exceptions. Property owners can terminate a tenancy in the next few months for just three reasons: if it’s necessary to protect the owner or other tenants’ health and safety, if an owner or owner’s immediate family intends to live in the rental property, or if the landlord is removing the rental unit from the market under the terms of the Ellis Act.

The emergency ordinance also bars landlords from kicking out tenants on the basis that the renter allowed an “unauthorized” occupant to live there, as long as the person is an immeidate family member — children, spouses or domestic partners, grandchildren, parents, or grandparents — living there because of COVID-19.

Because state law prohibits local governments from regulating rent on units built after 1995, single-family homes, individually owned condominiums and townhouses, the moratorium on rent increases do not apply to those types of housing.

The continued protections will not extend to small businesses, however. While the county’s previously passed ordinance suspended the evictions of small businesses who could not pay rent due to COVID-19 economic fallout, the authority to do so by the state under an executive order by the governor expires on Sept. 30.

“We received no indication that he is going to extend it,” Contra Costa County’s Chief Assistant Counsel Mary Ann Mason told the supervisors of the governo’rs plan. “We do not see legal authority to extend eviction protections any further for small businesses.”

She noted that if a state order allowing the county to revive that protection was renewed, the county’s attorneys would return to the board to revisit the issue. Small businesses do have a grace period until January 31, 2021 to pay back rent they were unable to pay because of the pandemic.

While renters and tenant advocates have expressed support for the county’s ordinance, they are urging the county to go further in protecting renters as the fallout from the pandemic continues. The current ordinance has too many loopholes for tenants to be at risk of eviction, they say.

Mason addressed that during the meeting in saying that supervisors could consider an amendment that would protect renters from what she calls “curable” violations of a lease — listing examples such as “refusal to let an owner enter, refusal to renew a lease, refusal to leave after ending a lease, unpermitted sublet.”

While they would technically be a breach of a rental contract, such violations are more fixable and not in the same category as, for instance, operating a home-based meth lab, Mason pointed out.

At Supervisor John Gioia’s request, Mason promised to bring back an amendment to address those issues. It may be difficult to get approval from Supervisors Candace Andersen and Karen Mitchoff, who expressed concern for landlords.

“I’m hearing form landlords who really feel strangled by this,” Andersen said.

The next supervisor’s meeting is scheduled for Oct. 13.

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