Landlord Sues LA County Over Commercial Eviction Ban

It’s the first lawsuit in the country challenging a commercial eviction ban, attorneys say

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A commercial landlord filed a federal lawsuit today challenging Los Angeles County’s ban on commercial evictions, according to the plaintiff’s attorneys.

Howard Iten, a retired mechanic who leases space to an auto shop in the city of Lawndale, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in hopes of overturning the eviction moratorium. Iten is unable to evict his tenant — an auto repair franchisee who has been open for business through the pandemic — despite more than $30,000 in unpaid rent. Auto repair is considered an essential business.

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The county’s ban on evictions for unpaid rent due to hardships stemming from the pandemic was extended to the end of February, and it is expected to be extended again. The tenant will then still have up to 12 months following the end of the moratorium to repay any past due rent.

“The county can’t put the burden of the pandemic only on the shoulders of landlords,” said Damien Schiff, a senior attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation, which represents Iten. “L.A. County’s heavy-handed response to COVID-19 has hit businesses hard. It’s unfair and illegal for the county to force commercial landlords to bear the costs of those policies.” 

Pacific Legal Foundation said Iten’s is the first lawsuit in the country challenging a commercial eviction ban. The lawsuit argues that the government cannot undermine a lease contract, and that the ban on evictions does not help combat the spreading coronavirus.

According to the lawsuit, Iten’s tenant stopped paying rent last April after Lawndale enacted a moratorium prohibiting landlords from evicting tenants for nonpayment due to COVID-19. Then, L.A. County extended its moratorium to all cities. Under the current moratorium, Iten can’t evict the tenant until one year after the moratorium ends, and can’t collect interest.

Government regulations on businesses to curb the coronavirus have been met with a myriad of court challenges, from shopping center operators to multifamily landlords. Last month, an L.A. restaurant owner filed a lawsuit in federal court against California Gov. Gavin Newsom over the state’s ban on outdoor dining. The Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles is appealing a decision against its lawsuit to halt L.A.’s ban on residential evictions and its rent freeze in the wake of the pandemic. And Westfield sued L.A. County in September, demanding that retail centers be allowed to reopen.