LA Pushes for Citywide Apartment Rent Freeze During Outbreak

Councilmembers Mike Bonin and David Ryu on Tuesday announced proposed measures that would freeze all multifamily rents in L.A., and further solidify the moratorium on evictions.

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Los Angeles lawmakers this week introduced a new suite of legislative measures to help renters and property owners during the coronavirus pandemic emergency.

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With the city shut down, Councilmembers Mike Bonin and David Ryu on Tuesday announced proposed measures that would freeze all multifamily rents in L.A., and further solidify the moratorium on evictions. Council President Nury Martinez also introduced an emergency renter relief program. 

Bonin and Ryu are proposing the city not allow rent increases on any units during the crisis. Their new motion would direct the city attorney to prepare an ordinance freezing rent increases on all rental units, and it would be effective until 90 days after the end of the local emergency. It also calls on the state to suspend the legal barriers preventing the freeze.

Mayor Eric Garcetti already issued a temporary rent freeze late last month for the city’s 624,000 rent-stabilized units until 60 days after the emergency ends. 

More than 60 percent of the city’s population are renters and, of those, about 58 percent spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent. In California, more than 1.6 million people have filed unemployment claims since March 13, and layoffs are expected to keep rising to a total of as much as 20 million, according to city council members.

The assistance relief fund proposed by Martinez stems from a program that the city established for renters who faced massive increases just before the new statewide rent control law was enacted on January 1. The funds went directly to tenants at or below 80 percent of the median income for three months until the end of 2019. Martinez proposes to reestablish the fund and create a similar program, a “COVID-19 Emergency Renter’s Relief Program,” to assist with repayment of rent lost due to the pandemic outbreak.

“While we all are clearly at a health risk, no one is at greater risk in the ability to recover from the ensuing economic crisis than low-income workers,” Martinez said. “They are one life emergency away from being homeless, and this is clearly that emergency. ”

The measure would direct the Housing and Community Investment Department to report on possible sources of funds, and include $1 million from her district’s funding, and $150,000 from Councilman Herb Wesson’s district, according to the motion. 

Despite an emergency moratorium on evictions, many landlords across the state started serving three-day notices to pay rent or quit notices, according to another measure from Bonin and Ryu. They want to direct the city attorney to draft an emergency ordinance that prohibits owners or managers from terminating a tenancy, serving a notice, or shutting off utilities.

The California Judicial Council has also postponed proceedings that could result in evictions or foreclosures. But the councilmembers said the original eviction moratorium included issues, like conditions that a tenant needed to prove a connection to the pandemic in order to qualify for protections.

“The holes in the eviction protections will allow many Angelenos to be kicked out of their homes,” the order reads.

“People should not be punished for doing their part and staying home in the best interest of public health,” Bonin said in a statement. “We need to eliminate confusion and make very clear — no one in Los Angeles can be kicked out of their home while this crisis continues. You can’t stay home if you don’t have a home. We are already seeing examples of some landlords abusing existing protections, and these measures will prevent abuse and help keep people in their homes.”

Bonin and Ryu also introduced a resolution that calls on the state and federal governments to create programs to forgive rent and mortgage debts created during the crisis.

“We are in an economic crisis unlike anything we’ve ever seen, and our government is not meeting the severity of this moment with the strength required,” Ryu said. “People have been forced out of work, they’re scared and they’re running out of money. If we want to avoid widespread default, an explosion of homelessness, and millions of people trapped under mountains of debt, we need rent and mortgage forgiveness now.”