WALNUT CREEK (CBS SF) — After more than year of being in place, California’s eviction moratorium comes to an end this week, allowing landlords to start removing tenants for failing to pay rent during the COVID pandemic.

But officials say the expiration at 11:59 a.m. on Thursday will not trigger a massive wave of evictions across the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Some protections for renters will still be in place.

“A landlord must apply for rental assistance before they can try to evict you through the courts for failing to pay your rent,” state housing officials said in a news release.

Housing advocates held a car caravan and rally in San Francisco over the weekend. They were hoping to deliver the message that the pandemic’s economic challenges have not gone away and unemployment is still high.

“The reality in American today, in California today, is now is not the time for the eviction moratorium to end,” said housing advocate Brian Zhang. “People aren’t ready. They haven’t recovered from the pandemic.”

“In the midst of a pandemic it is absolutely criminal to evict people from their homes,” added housing advocate Nathalie Hrizi. “Not only is it an issue not only of their well being. It’s also a question of public health.”

State officials said distressed renters can apply for the Rent Relief Program which pays eligible tenants and landlords 100% of a tenant’s past-due rent and utilities going as far back as April 1, 2020.

“The program is free and does not currently have a deadline, but because funding may be limited, renters are encouraged to apply as soon as possible,” officials said.

Only a fraction of the $5.2-billion in available federal funding has been distributed. Some property owners say that’s because the program is needlessly complex and poorly designed, requiring both the landlord and renter to individually fill applications for assistance.
“I don’t understand why there’s a challenge, especially when there’s no repercussions and no downside to doing it. There’s just a general indifference to completing the application,” says Jeff Zell, a property owner and manager with roughly 2,000 units in his portfolio.
Zell says his company has completed application for all tenants who fell behind on their rent during the pandemic but has struggled to get them to complete their portion of the application.
“It’s a very poorly designed program. Plus, it relies on the tenants to complete this application which in many instances they’re reluctant or just indifferent to completing,” he said.

With the deadline in mind, state Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency Secretary Lourdes Castro Ramirez urged renters to take advantage of the more than $7 billion the state has made available for rent and utility payment assistance.

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“Applying for rental assistance is the best way to protect yourself against being evicted,” Castro Ramirez said during a briefing at Shelter Inc. in Concord, an organization seeking to prevent homelessness.

In addition to the state’s moratorium ending, some local eviction moratoria are also set to end Thursday, including Contra Costa County’s.

According to Castro Ramirez, roughly 4,800 Contra Costa County residents have sought rent relief funding totaling roughly $55 million.

Statewide, $1.69 billion in funding has been dispersed in support of households who are behind on their rent or utility payments, according to state officials.

State legislators have previously extended the moratorium multiple times, but were unable to do so past Sept. 30 before the state’s legislative session ended on Sept. 10.

Advocates also reminded California residents that there are resources for both tenants and landlords available at HousingIsKey.com.

There are also rules in place for landlords.

  • Although your landlord may give you a notice to “pay or quit” (which is a notice from your landlord that gives you a certain amount of time to pay the outstanding rent you owe or vacate your home) at any time, they will not be able to legally evict you without first applying to the CA COVID-19 Rent Relief program.
  • If you receive a notice to “pay or quit,” it is strongly recommended that you immediately get legal assistance to determine and protect your rights. If your notice to “pay or quit” includes a “Declaration of COVID-19 related financial distress” — and you have been financially impacted by the pandemic — you should sign and return the declaration to your landlord within 15 business days to bolster your protections.

Other things renters need to know:

    • Beginning November 1, 2021, your landlord may sue you for any unpaid rent you owe. Until October 1, 2021, a landlord can only evict a tenant if they provide a legally valid reason.
    • It is illegal for a landlord to give a tenant a 30- or 60-day eviction notice without a stated reason. This is commonly known as a “no-cause” eviction.
    • The stated reason must match one of the valid reasons allowed by the law for a “just cause” eviction.
    • Existing local government eviction ordinances may remain in place until they expire, but they may not defer rent obligations beyond May 31, 2023.
    • Landlords who do such things as lock tenants out, remove personal property or shut off utility services to evict a tenant — rather than going through the required court process — can face fines of between $1,000 and $2,500. These penalties are in effect until October 1, 2021.

If you believe you have been unlawfully evicted or if you need legal advice, you should consult with an attorney. If you need low- or no-cost legal help, visit www.lawhelpca.org for additional resources.

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Devin Fehely contributed to this story.