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Lawsuit Seeks Reimbursement For Unpaid Rent During COVID Emergency
 

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By Jorge Casuso

September 16, 2020 -- A group of rental companies has sued eight Southern California cities -- including Santa Monica -- seeking reimbursement for unpaid rent deferred during the coronavirus emergency.

Filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Friday, the lawsuit -- which also names the County and State -- claims the eviction moratoriums imposed by the defendants over the past half year constitute a takings without just compensation.

"While purportedly intending to provide relief to tenants," the lawsuit states, "the ordinances and other enactments are illegal, imbalanced and significantly infringe on (property owners') constitutional rights."

Unlike a lawsuit filed in Federal Court in June by the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles (AGLA) that seeks an injunction against Los Angeles' measure, the new lawsuit is seeking damages as well.

The plaintiffs are asking for more than $2 million in lost rent, said Steven Zelig, the lawyer representing more than 70 property owners in the suit.

Zelig claims the plaintiffs will continue losing between $600,000 and $700,000 a month under the emergency measures, which bars landlords from evicting residential tenants who can show they can't pay rent due to the COVID-19 emergency.

"We're asking for reimbursement," Zelig said. "Why should my people be the ones subsidizing tenants for something that is affecting all of society."

Zelig notes that other essential sectors, such as grocery stores and gas stations, have not been ordered to give their products to customers until they can pay for them.

The lawsuit names Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Glendale, Burbank, Agoura Hills and Santa Clarita as defendants.

Santa Monica Interim City Attorney George Cardona said the City believes its eviction moratorium is legal.

"We are reviewing the complaint, but we believe the eviction moratorium imposed by the City of Santa Monica complies with all applicable laws and is an important safety net during the pandemic," Cardona said in a statement.

Santa Monica City officials did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Under the state law that went into effect September 1, California renters are protected from eviction through January 31, as long as they pay at least 25 percent of their rent.

The law works in conjunction with Santa Monica's eviction moratorium, which went into effect on March 14 and has been subsequently extended and strengthened.

Santa Monica's emergency order lasts through September 30 and gives affected tenants one year after the moratorium ends to pay the rent owed.

Zelig called the idea that tenants will pay the back rent "laughable."

"What are the chances tenants will save 12 months rent during COVID," he said. "It's not going to happen. Ninety-seven percent are going to walk."

It is unclear how many tenants owe Santa Monica landlords back rent. They City's Rent Control Board discontinued a survey after receiving few responses.

This week, a nationwide survey by Apartment List found that nine in ten U.S. renters paid their rent in full last month and are expected to do the same in September ("Nine in Ten Renters Expected to Pay Full Rent by End of Month," September 15, 2020).


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