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Small Apartment Owners Ask City to 'Share Financial Burden' When Tenants Can't Pay Rent
 

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By Jorge Casuso

March 19, 2020 -- Santa Monica'a small landlords are asking the City to "share the financial burden" after the City manager issued an emergency order barring evictions for non-payment of rent during the coronavirus emergency.

The emergency order -- decreed Saturday by City Manager Rick Cole and amended Wednesday -- prohibits the eviction of residential or commercial tenants for nonpayment of rent if they can show they are unable to pay "due to financial impacts related to COVID-19."

It also covers no-fault evictions "if any member of the household is sick, in isolation, or under quarantine" ("Santa Monica Expands Eviction Protections to Business Tenants, Suspends Bus Fares, Late Fees," March 18, 2020).

While the order does not excuse the past rent accrued during the period, it allows tenants six months after the end of the emergency to pay it back.

Landlords who own small rent-controlled buildings argue that while tenants are being given a reprieve, property owners still have bills, mortgages and taxes to pay.

"This really affects small landlords because many are senior citizens and this is their retirement income," said Matt Millen, who with former Rent Board Commissioner Jay Johnson is leading the effort.

"If tenants don't pay the rent, how are they going to pay their mortgage, gardener, pest control and the property tax bill due April 10?"

On Monday, 14 housing providers and community members wrote a letter to City officials asking them to pitch in.

"Forcing rental housing providers to absorb the full financial loss due to the inability of a tenant to pay the rent is fundamentally unfair," they wrote.

"The city should give tenants who qualify for assistance funds to pay their rent.

"This will allow property owners to maintain aging apartment buildings and provide quality housing for the tenants of our city, while ensuring tenant security in their homes," they wrote.

The letter -- along with an accompanying petition -- calls on the City to expand a program that gives cash payments to low-income seniors struggling to hang on to their rent control units.

The "Preserve Our Diversity" program -- funded with sales tax revenue from the 2016 Great Senior Housing (GSH) tax measure -- was expanded last August to provide $2 million to between 250 and 400 seniors, up from 22 during a pilot program.

"This national crisis requires that the entire S.M. community share the financial burden incurred by SM Tenants who temporarily cannot afford to pay their rent," the letter said.

City Manager Cole said the City doesn't have the resources to provide financial assistance.

"We have to be realistic about the City’s capacity to absorb economic distress among our residents and businesses," Cole told the Lookout.

"Unlike the Federal government, we are required by law to have balanced budgets and our revenues will take a huge hit as a result of this crisis -- like communities across the globe.

"It will be critically important to address these issues at the Federal and State level -- especially because the economic and social impacts go far beyond our 8.3 square miles," Cole said.

The City's executive order prohibits landlords from evicting tenants for non payment of rent if they are:

  • Sick with COVID-19, or caring for a household or family member who is sick;
  • Laid-off or have lost income resulting from business closure or other economic or employer impacts of COVID-19;
  • Complying with a recommendation from a government health authority to stay home, self-quarantine, or avoid congregating with others during the state of emergency;
  • Have extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses; or
  • Have child care needs arising from school closures related to COVID-19.

Cole noted that 70 percent of Santa Monica residents are renters and says the order provides "the security of housing during this difficult time.

"We recognize that the vast majority of landlords will act responsibly," Cole wrote, "but this order serves to ensure no renter loses their home due to a crisis beyond their control.

"Everyone needs to feel safe to stay home if they are sick, care for sick loved ones, and have access to essential services.”


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