Contra Costa County Passes Eviction Protection and Rent Freeze Ordinance

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On Tuesday, during a Special Meeting of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, they unanimously approved an Urgency Ordinance temporarily prohibiting evictions of residential and commercial real property tenants in Contra Costa County impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic while also establishing a moratorium on rent increases.

According to the Ordinance, between March 16 – May 31 and any extension by the board of Supervisors, an owner of residential real property or commercial real property shall not terminate a tenancy for failure to pay rent if the tenant demonstrates that the failure to pay rent is directly related to a loss of income or out-of-pocket medical expenses associated with the COVID-19 pandemic or any local, state, or federal government response to the pandemic.

The tenant must demonstrate through documentation such as job loss, layoffs, business closure, etc. related to COVID-19. The tenant must also notify the owner in writing before rent is due.

This law applies to properties in all 19 cities in the County and in all unincorporated areas–for those cities who have already enacted a similar ordinance, the local ordinance, if stricter, would prevail.

For a period of 120-days after this ordinance expires, including any subsequent extensions approved by the Board of Supervisors, an owner may not charge or collect a late fee for unpaid rent due from a tenant who demonstrated loss of income or out-of-pocket medical expenses as required under this ordinance.

For those looking into rent increases, an owner may not increase rent through May 31, 2020, and any subsequent extensions approved by the Board of Supervisors.

“My colleagues and I on the Board of Supervisors are deeply aware of the economic impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has on our residents, including the fear of eviction brought on by job losses,” said Supervisor Candace Andersen, Board Chair. “We hope the passage of this ordinance to protect renters against eviction and the freeze on rent increases will give residents and businesses critical time and support as we respond to the emergency and the changing situation.”

“At the same time, we also recognize the impact on landlords. This is not a forgiveness of the rent owed, but a longer period to pay it,” said Supervisor Andersen. “We hope that property owners and their tenants will work together to reach fair and equitable ways to have the owed rent paid.”

During Tuesdays 3-hour meeting, the county received dozens of public comments while the Board of Supervisors debated over 120-days or 180-days grace period to pay back rent.

Supervisor John Gioia argued in favor of moving towards a 180-days but that idea was shot down multiple times.

Supervisor Diane Burgis said the whole reason to do this was to deal with uncertain times and uncertain times that may occur in the future while highlighting the need to prepare for the long-term with help from the state because they were not going to open everything right away and people are going to need help acknowledging this ordinance is only taking care of a certain segment.

“We are trying to do this without any unintended consequences so when I think about the grace period, it wasn’t that long ago where I was living month-to-month with three kids, I think of how hard paying that back would be, that would be under the assumption I was going back to work and be being full-time and not part-time,” explained Burgis.  “I want to be generous with the grace period but really am concerned about the landlords.”

Supervisor Karen Mitchoff suggested they keep the documentation for notice as simple as they could saying tenants should communicate with the landlord with a letter. The form they could create would address this.

“I hear the issue about landlords for some who may use this as retirement income, to me that speaks against not extending,” said Mitchoff stating they had until the September-October time-frame to make up missed payments under the ordinance. “I would still stick with the 120-days… we need to have more of a conscience and easily understood ordinance at this time.”

Supervisor Candace Andersen highlighted the importance of providing advanced notice to landlords if a tenant was not able to pay their rent with some level of documentation—such as declaration or proof unable to pay.  Like Mitchoff, she had concerns of extending the timeline for someone to pay.

Gioia then motioned to keep the ordinance as is, except with the extension of time to 180-days (an additional two-months) with some additional language.

The Board of Supervisors ultimately in a majority straw poll, opted for the 120-days since this item will likely return in June for an extension.

Protections granted to residential and commercial renters include:

  • Prohibition on Evictions Due to Unpaid Rent – A property owner cannot evict a tenant for failure to pay rent if a tenant demonstrates loss of income or out-of-pocket medical expenses related to COVID-19. This prohibition lasts through May 31, 2020 unless extended by the Board of Supervisors based on the continuation of the local emergency.
  • Ban on No-Fault Evictions – A property owner cannot evict a tenant for any “no-fault” reason 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. This ban lasts through May 31, 2020 unless extended by the Board of Supervisors.
  • Moratorium on Rent Increases – Temporary freeze on rent increases through May 31, 2020 (this date may be extended if the local emergency lasts longer). State law prevents this freeze from applying to residences built within the last 15 years; single family homes, townhouses/condos unless owned by a corporation, investment trust, or LLC; owner-occupied duplexes; hotels; care facilities for adults/elderly; school dorms; group housing.
  • Grace Period to Pay Back Rent – Tenants who demonstrate loss of income or out-of-pocket medical expenses related to COVID-19 have 120 days after May 31, 2020 (or any extension of this emergency law) to pay past due rent. This does not relieve a tenant of their obligation to pay rent.
  • No Late Fees – Property owner may not charge or collect late fees for unpaid rent from a tenant who demonstrates loss of income or out-of-pocket medical expenses related to COVID-19. This ban on late fees extends until 120 days after May 31, 2020 (or any extension of this emergency law).
  • Retroactivity of Eviction Protections – These protections apply to eviction notices and lawsuits served or filed after March 15, 2020.
  • Tenant’s Right to Recover Damages – An owner who violates this new law by attempting to evict a tenant or retaliating against the tenant can face a civil action by the tenant for injunctive relief and/or money damages.

Here is the ordinance: Click here