By David Wagner/LAist
Eviction protections for renters affected by COVID-19 expired on Friday, March 31.
First put in place in March 2020, the policies helped hundreds of thousands of renters stay housed during the pandemic. L.A. officials at the county level repeatedly extended the deadline, and kept COVID-19 renter protections in place longer than other parts of the country — a situation strongly opposed by local landlords who pushed for a return to pre-pandemic rules.
Tenant advocates worry that the lack of COVID-19 protections will lead to a wave of evictions and homelessness among renters still struggling from job loss, illness or family member deaths. According to recent U.S. Census Bureau surveys, about 246,000 L.A. households remain behind on rent. An estimated 243,000 children live in those households.
In many parts of L.A. County, tenant rights will not fully go back to “normal” following the expiration. New local protections have taken the place of pandemic-era rules.
Navigating these changes can be daunting. Government websites are confusing. Online advice is often conflicting. Understanding which regulations apply to your situation is no easy task.
This guide is your roadmap for understanding all the changes for L.A. renters. A lot depends on where you live and what kind of building you occupy.
A quick note before we begin: We’re not attorneys, and this guide can’t address the complexities of every unique housing situation. If you’re still confused or uncertain about how the rules apply to you, reach out to legal experts for help (we’ve included info on how to do that below).
The Biggest Change Scheduled For April
Starting April 1, low-income tenants can no longer put off paying rent because of harms brought on by COVID-19.
Reduced household income due to pandemic-related job loss, illness or death will no longer be grounds for deferring rent. If you don’t pay your April rent on time, you could be evicted.
Trinidad Ocampo, directing attorney of Housing and Homeless Prevention Programs at Neighborhood Legal Services of L.A. County, said once the county’s protections end, “There are no more COVID-related hardships to excuse non-payment of rent.”
However, new protections are coming online in some parts of L.A. that could briefly stave off an eviction for certain tenants. More on that below.
Efforts To Extend County Rules Failed
The L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted to extend the COVID-19 eviction rules twice in recent months. The shifting deadlines have caused widespread confusion among tenants, landlords and even other local lawmakers.
The final effort to keep certain eviction limits in place failed. L.A. County Supervisors Lindsey Horvath and Hilda Solis wanted to maintain some eviction safeguards, tying the protections to the region’s ongoing homelessness emergency declaration rather than the County’s COVID-19 emergency period set to end on March 31. But other supervisors rejected the plan.
Before March 31, Who Was Allowed To Defer Rent?
L.A. County’s pandemic-era eviction rules did not apply to tenants across the board. To qualify for the protections for non-payment of rent, tenants needed to have low-incomes and live within L.A. County boundaries. They also needed to be able to show they’d been harmed by economic fallout related to COVID-19.
Specifically, tenants needed to have a household income that didn’t exceed 80% of L.A. County’s “Area Median Income.” If your household income exceeded these figures, you did not qualify for the county’s COVID-19 eviction protections for non-payment of rent:
- $51,000 for a household with one person
- $58,320 for a household with two people
- $65,600 for a household with three people
- $72,880 for a household with four people
- $78,720 for a household with five people
- $84,560 for a household with six people
- $90,360 for a household with seven people
- $96,200 for a household with eight people
If you qualified under those income thresholds, you still had to be able to demonstrate that COVID-19 harmed your finances. The county’s rules required tenants to have experienced a “substantial loss” of monthly income — at least 10% or more. Or, tenants could have shown that COVID-19 impacted them by proving they’d seen their household costs increase by more than 7.5%.
If you met the above criteria, there was still one more step you needed to take to assert your protection: You must have notified your landlord within seven days of your rent coming due that you planned to defer rent under the county’s COVID-19 eviction protections.
You needed to fill out this form and deliver it to your landlord within the seven-day period.
What Should I Do If I Get A Pay-Or-Quit Notice?
Unlike earlier in the pandemic, you won’t be able to delay April rent by providing a COVID-19 impact statement to your landlord. If you don’t pay your full April rent on time, your landlord could give you a three-day notice to pay or leave. This is the first legally required step of an eviction.
If you get a notice to pay or quit, act quickly. Tenant advocates say you should focus on paying your April rent within that three-day window if at all possible. Failure to pay after receiving notice could lead to your landlord filing a case against you in eviction court.
What If My Landlord Files For Eviction?
If you fail to pay within three days, your landlord can file for an “unlawful detainer,” which is basically an eviction lawsuit against you. Once you receive an unlawful detainer notice, you’ll only have five business days to respond to it in writing with the eviction court.
Tenant advocates say it’s crucial that you respond within that five-day window. Failure to file an answer with the court could lead to a “default judgment” against you, essentially meaning that you’ve lost your case and will be locked out of your home by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.
“The eviction lawsuit process moves very fast,” said Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles staff attorney Jonathan Jager. “People need to be proactive and on time in responding to things.”
Who Can I Reach Out To For Help Fighting An Eviction?
Since time is of the essence, if you’re facing an eviction and want to fight it, reach out for legal help right away. Legal aid providers have partnered with the city and county of L.A. to offer tenant assistance through StayHousedLA.org. Residents of L.A. County can visit that website to read more about their rights, submit a request for legal help or sign up for tenant workshops.
Another resource that could be useful for tenants facing eviction is TenantPowerToolkit.org. This website allows tenants to generate a response to eviction filings by inputting their information into an online form.
The site helps you produce a written answer to the court within the five-day window. This response alone won’t stop an eviction — you should still seek legal help — but it could prevent a swift default judgment, giving you more time to prepare your defense.
I’ve Paid My Rent. Can I Still Be Evicted?
Failing to pay rent is one of the main reasons for eviction. But it’s not the only one. Landlords can also file for eviction over nuisances, lease violations, plans to take an apartment off the rental market, or — in some cases — for no specific reason at all.
Depending on your housing situation, there may be limits on why your landlord can evict you. These are known as “just cause” eviction protections, meaning your landlord must have a justified reason for evicting you.
You are protected against evictions without a just cause if you fall into one of the following categories:
- You live in rent-controlled housing in the city of L.A.
- You have lived in city of L.A. rental housing for more than six months, or for the length of your first lease, whichever comes first.
- You live in rent-controlled housing in another city with local rent control, including Santa Monica, Inglewood, Culver City, Pasadena, West Hollywood, Bell Gardens, Beverly Hills and Pomona
- You live in rent-controlled housing in unincorporated L.A. County. Check to see if you live in an unincorporated area here
- You have lived for at least one year in most California rental housing built more than 15 years ago, as outlined in state law AB 1482, known as the Tenant Protection Act of 2019
For renters who live within L.A. city boundaries, the L.A. City Council recently voted to expand just cause to about 396,000 households that previously lacked those protections. Housing units built after 1978 aren’t old enough to be covered by the city’s local rent control law.
But the council voted in favor of expanding just cause to non-rent-controlled units, with one major caveat: tenants in newer buildings will only receive just cause protections after the expiration of their first lease, or after six months of tenancy — whichever comes first.
If just cause protections apply to your housing unit, make sure your landlord specifies why they are evicting you. You may be entitled to relocation assistance if you’re being evicted through no fault of your own (for example, if you’ve followed the terms of your lease and paid rent on time, but your landlord now wants to move one of their family members into your unit).
If you lack just cause protections — perhaps you’re renting an apartment in a newer building outside the city of L.A. — your landlord can evict you without a stated reason. However, they still must provide you with a 30-day or 60-day eviction notice, depending on the circumstances.
How Do I Know If I Live In Rent-Controlled Housing?
We wish we had a simple answer for you, but local governments have not made it easy to figure out which buildings are covered by rent control. You’ll have to do some research on your own, or reach out to a local tenant rights expert (more on that below) for help.
Here are a couple ways to get started:
- If you live in the city of L.A., plug your address into zimas.lacity.org. Once you’ve found your building on the map, click the “housing” tab on the left hand drop-down menu. The “Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO)” field should say “Yes” if you’re covered by rent control.
- For other cities, our recent rent hike guide features information about many local forms of rent control. Whether your building is rent controlled or not largely has to do with when it was built. Different cities have different cut-offs. For instance, rent control in Santa Monica generally applies to rental housing built before April 10, 1979. But in Baldwin Park, rent control generally applies to rental housing built before Jan. 1, 1995.
If you are not covered by any form of local rent control, you still may have just cause protections and rent hike limits through state law AB 1482. This law applies to most rental housing in California built more than 15 years ago.
What About Back Rent? When Is That Due?
If you still owe rent from earlier in the pandemic, that debt isn’t scheduled to come due all at once beginning April 1. You’ll have more time to repay your back rent.
The repayment deadlines will differ depending on where you live. Here are the deadlines in the city of L.A.:
- Unpaid rent from March 2020 through Sept. 2021 must be paid by Aug. 1, 2023.
- Unpaid rent from Oct. 2021 through Jan. 2023 must be paid by Feb. 1, 2024.
- Unpaid rent from Feb. 2023 through March 2023 must be paid a year after it comes due. (Be sure you qualify for non-payment of rent eviction protections under the county’s COVID-19 rules for these months — see the requirements above.)
If you live anywhere else in L.A. County, you’ll have to pay your back rent one year after it came due. For example, July 2022 rent debt must be paid by July 1, 2023, and March 2023 rent debt won’t come due until March 1, 2024.
If you have rent debt, be sure to prioritize your April 2023 rent first. Tenant advocates say renters should explicitly tell landlords they’re intending to pay their April rent — not making a payment toward their back rent, which can be paid off later.
“If you’re paying by check, note it on the note line,” said the Legal Aid Foundation’s Jonathan Jager. “If you’re paying in cash, include a little note. If you’re paying online, it would really depend on the system. But you could follow it up with an email or text.”
What If I Can’t Pay My April Rent On Time?
Depending on where you live, you might not face eviction right away if you come up short on April rent. That’s because elected officials in the city and county of L.A. have recently passed new thresholds for eviction over non-payment of rent.
In unincorporated parts of L.A. County, tenants can fall behind by about one month’s worth of rent before their landlord is allowed to pursue an eviction over non-payment. This policy was approved by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors last year.
Tenants covered by this protection can’t be evicted until they owe more than one month’s worth of “fair market rent,” as determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Here are the current fair market rent standards for the L.A. area:
- $1,534 for a studio apartment
- $1,747 for a one-bedroom apartment
- $2,222 for a two-bedroom apartment
- $2,888 for a three-bedroom apartment
- $3,170 for a four-bedroom apartment
The L.A. City Council recently voted to mirror this protection within the city of L.A. The threshold set by the city is the same as the above threshold set by the county.
Can My Landlord Increase My Rent?
This also depends on where you live, and what kind of housing you occupy.
In the city of L.A., tenants in rent-controlled housing are protected from rent hikes until Feb. 1, 2024. Why? The city implemented a rent freeze for tenants in rent-controlled housing back when the pandemic began, and the ban on rent hikes will continue for another year.
Mateo Gil, a community organizer with Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, said renters facing illegal rent hikes in the city of L.A. can take action.
“It is advised for them to notify their landlord that the increase is invalid and to file a complaint with the housing department,” he said. “And also to share this information with their neighbors, and to begin having more conversations with neighbors about what’s going on.”
Elsewhere, rent increases in many places have been allowed for a while now. You’ll have to navigate a labyrinthine maze of overlapping local and state laws governing allowable rent hikes to figure out what applies to you. Some cities currently limit increases for tenants in rent-controlled housing to around 3%. But others allow higher rent hikes. Tenants covered by the state’s Tenant Protection Act of 2019 can currently receive annual rent hikes of up to 10%.
For tenants living in recently constructed apartments, there are no caps on rent increases at all.
What Happens If I Have To Move Somewhere Cheaper?
In the city of L.A., your landlord may be required to help pay for your move if you’re priced out by a large rent hike.
This is due to a recent L.A. City Council vote requiring relocation payments for “economic displacement” resulting from any rent increase above 10%. Landlords who displace tenants through large hikes must pay three times the “fair market rent” (see figures above) plus $1,411 in moving expenses. If you owe back rent from earlier in the pandemic, landlords can deduct your debts from the relocation payment.
Still not sure what rent hikes are allowed in your building? Get started on figuring that out by reading LAist’s rent hike cheat sheet from last year.
What About Roommates And Pets That Moved In During The Pandemic?
Throughout the pandemic, COVID-19 regulations have protected L.A. renters from eviction over unauthorized occupants or pets who moved in during the pandemic.
But tenants with roommates or pets not approved by their landlords could soon be at risk of eviction in many parts of L.A. — unless lawmakers act soon.
In the city of L.A., nothing will change on this front — at least for now. The L.A. City Council recently voted to extend existing protections for unauthorized occupants and pets for one more year, until Jan. 31, 2024.
But L.A. County’s protections (which apply to people who live in the county outside of the city of L.A.) are now expired, with nothing to take their place. This will leave renters outside the city of L.A. vulnerable to eviction starting in April if their new roommates or pets violate the terms of their lease.
What Resources Can I Turn To For Help?
Tenants who need help or advice can contact local legal aid organizations through StayHousedLA.org. However, local eviction attorneys say they’re being inundated with requests. If you can’t find an attorney, there are other resources that may help.
- TenantPowerToolkit.org can help you quickly respond to a filing in eviction court, as described earlier in this guide.
- L.A. County runs Self-Help Legal Access Centers, where tenants representing themselves in eviction court can seek legal information from trained attorneys.
- The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles hosts regular eviction trial workshops. You can sign up through StayHousedLA.org/workshops or by calling 888-694-0040.
- The Eviction Defense Network also holds workshops regularly. You can join those workshops via Zoom or by calling 214-485-8112.
This report is reprinted with permission from Southern California Public Radio. © 2023 Southern California Public Radio. All rights reserved.