Emergency Rental Assistance Program in California 2021

by | Feb 3, 2021 | Law

Lawmakers here in California just approved much needed rent relief and eviction protections for tenants. The emergency measure is set to deliver billions of dollars in rental assistance and extend an eviction moratorium through June. But not for everyone.

With the passage of Senate Bill 91, and Governor Newson signing off on it, this clears the way for the distribution of two point six billion dollars in federal funds to landlords and utilities to settle some of the unpaid bills of low- and moderate-income Californians that have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Just a quick history to explain why SB 91 has come into effect. So right after the pandemic hit, on April 6th, the Judicial Council which governs all the courts in California put a stop to practically all evictions throughout the state.

Then came AB 3088 which was passed August 31st 2020 and went into effect the next day. This allowed for evictions to move forward again, but it set some very strict guidelines regarding the non-payment of rent regarding COVID-19. Basically, this law said that any rent that was unpaid prior to September 1st could not be the reason for an eviction. Moving forward, so long as a tenant paid at least 25% of their rent from September 1st until January 31st, they could not be evicted.

So now, we are past the January 31st deadline that was established with AB 3088. SB 19 is meant to pick up where the prior law left off. The new law extends the deadline until June 30th of 2021. Wherein, a tenant cannot be evicted so long as the tenant pays at least 25% of the total rent incurred between September 1st of 2020, and June 30th of 2021.

So who qualifies for this assistance? It’s based on the median income in your area. In order to qualify, your household can only earn up to 80% of the median income in your area. However, priority goes to those households with an income of 50% or less of the median income, and to those households where there has been an individual who has been unemployed for three months or longer. If you qualify, this money can be used for back rent, forward rent, or for utilities.

How much assistance is received by the tenant is determined by the willingness of the landlord.

Under SB 91, landlords can receive 80% of back rent due between April 1st of 2020 and March 31st of 2021. But in order to receive this, landlords must agree to waive the remaining 20% of the debt and not seek eviction for their tenants.

If the landlord refuses to waive their right to evict their tenants, they can only collect 25% of the total unpaid rent. Which will protect the tenant through June 30th of 2021. This is meant to incentivize landlords to keep their tenants and to help prevent a wave of evictions throughout the state.

The new law isn’t without controversy. Some people feel that the law gives landlords too much control over who gets the assistance and who doesn’t. If a landlord fails to accept the 80% payment, and wave the 20%, the tenant will still be protected from eviction, but will still be liable for that 75% once the eviction moratorium expires on June 30th. This gives the landlord the ability to, for lack of a bet description, choose winners and losers amongst their tenants, at their own discretion.

Then there’s the question as to how this law benefits tenants. Some believe that this law punishes tenants, in a way, that managed to keep up to date on their rent despite the pandemic, and award those who failed to keep up to date. What do you think? Leave your comments below.

Whatever the case, the new law was a necessary first step in order to avoid mass evictions beginning February 1st. Although there is much more work to be done, as State Senator Scott Wiener points out, “This proposal is a step toward the critical goals of housing stability and economic and health recovery.”