On August 13, 2020, the Judicial Council of California will vote on a proposal to lift California’s statewide eviction ban. If the ban is lifted, starting September 1, 2020, California State Courts can resume all unlawful detainer proceedings that came to a sudden halt in April of 2020 and begin processing all unlawful detainer complaints filed during the eviction freeze.
In response to the Coronavirus pandemic, on April 6, 2020, the Judicial Council of California, the policymaking body of California State Courts, adopted multiple Emergency Rules including Emergency Rule No. 1 (the “Emergency Rule”). The Emergency Rule froze all on-going eviction proceedings—regardless of whether the tenant was affected by COVID-19—and prohibited all California State Courts from issuing a summons for any unlawful detainer complaint. The Emergency Rule essentially serves as a blanket suspension on all commercial and residential evictions across California.
The Judicial Council’s intent to lift the statewide eviction ban and amend the Emergency Rule is founded on the rationale that the Emergency Rule was always meant to be temporary. California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye has repeatedly insisted that the inevitable eviction crisis is best left to the legislative and executive branches of government where open and transparent meetings and hearings can be had to determine “permanent measures and permanent solutions.”
The Judicial Council’s likely decision to lift the Emergency Rule comes at an uncertain time during our nation’s fight against the novel Coronavirus pandemic. Federal unemployment benefits were recently reduced from $600 to $400 per week, and California’s unemployment rate still lingers around 16.3 percent—four percentage points higher than it was during the Great Recession. However, the Emergency Rule’s purpose was less of a tenant relief measure and more a measure meant to alleviate stress on the Courts. Stress caused by a reduction in Court workers, mandatory stay-at-home orders, and an overall lack of infrastructure to support a wave of unlawful detainer filings that would otherwise flood the resource-strapped Courts.
Given the unstable economic condition, the Judicial Council’s plan to lift the Emergency Rule may only worsen California’s renters’ financial struggles, but only if the legislative and/or executive branches do not take swift action. To this point, California lawmakers are already asking the Judicial Council to postpone the vote to lift the eviction ban for another three weeks.
Although the Emergency Rule has protected California renters from eviction, landlords have argued that the Emergency Rule is too broad. For over five months, the Emergency Rule has prevented landlords from taking any legal action against any tenant, regardless of whether the tenant has been affected by COVID-19. Landlords claim that the Emergency Rule prevents them from evicting a tenant that has simply chosen not to pay rent knowing that the landlord has no recourse. In this instance, the Emergency Rule effectively permits tenants to occupy the property rent-free, while the landlord carries the burden of paying for the property’s mortgage and other related expenses.
Another complaint amongst landlords is a tenant that refuses to vacate the property, despite the landlord serving the tenant with proper notice of lease termination. Again, the landlord is forced to tolerate a tenant that occupies the property unlawfully and likely rent-free while also paying for the property’s mortgage and other expenses.
The California Legislature is intent on passing a solution to afford relief to residential tenants. One such measure that the State Legislature is considering is AB 1436, which strikes a balance of protecting financially impacted tenants from eviction while also preserving landlords’ rights.
AB 1436 prohibits landlords from evicting tenants that cannot pay rent due to the economic effects of COVID-19. However, the proposed law permits landlords to evict a tenant that is not financially affected by COVID-19 and fails to pay rent, or a tenant that occupies the property unlawfully. In its current form, AB 1436 satisfies landlords’ interests and concerns and protects tenants that have felt the financial impacts of COVID-19. AB 1436 does not apply to commercial tenancies.
The first time the Judicial Council attempted to lift the statewide eviction ban caused by the Emergency Rule, back in early-June, tremendous pushback from State Legislature and tenant organizations caused the Judicial Council to, ultimately, delay its vote. The Judicial Council recently received similar complaints from tenants that fear they will become homeless if the Emergency Rule is repealed and small landlords that face losing their livelihoods or filing for bankruptcy if the Emergency Rule remains in effect. If the Judicial Council does in-fact lift the eviction ban, the Emergency Rule will sunset on September 1, 2020. Check back to our website for updates about the Emergency Rule and AB 1436.