The Santa Barbara City Council will vote on a draft ordinance pausing evictions for the city in a special meeting next Tuesday.
Although the council had originally cancelled next week’s meeting, they will convene to vote on an ordinance which would protect tenants from eviction during the coronavirus pandemic. The ordinance will be prepared by City Attorney Ariel Calonne.
On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order suspending any laws to the extent that they may preempt a city from imposing “substantive limitations on residential or commercial evictions”, if the reason for eviction is non-payment of rent due to COVID-19.
“You can infer from that that the governor wants to empower cities to take care of businesses who have this problem as well as residential tenants,” said Mr. Calonne.
Mr. Calonne explained cities have varied in their orders, adopting both residential and commercial, or one or the other. It is one of the questions that the council will have to make a decision on Tuesday.
Other questions include the period of time the protections will cover, and what to do about the issue of paying back missed rent.
While Mr. Newsom’s order limits the period of eviction protection to May 31,
San Francisco and Santa Monica have determined tenants need not pay rent until the end of the emergency, at which point they need to pay the total of their missed rent back in six months, said Mr. Calonne.
The executive order from Mr. Newsom is silent on paying back rent after the eviction protection ends.
Councilmember Megan Harmon expressed concern over the six-month payback period, and said she would like to see that repayment period extended as long as reasonably possible.
“I think just because the crisis ends doesn’t mean that people are suddenly going to have access to large pools of money to pay back rent. I think we could be getting ourselves into a situation here where, once the crisis is over, folks are saddled with debt they are unable to pay,” said Ms. Harmon.
Ms. Harmon suggested that tenants have one year to pay back their missed rent.
“A lot of the people that will be making use of this protection are hourly workers, low-wage employees, and not folks who are going to be able to easily make up a month or a month and half’s worth of rent in six months,” said Ms. Harmon.
If six months is the only option with reasonable basis, Ms. Harmon said she would support the measure.
“To me, that date is meaninglessly too close to right now,” said Councilmember Michael Jordan. “There’s nobody who’s going to recover or not need assistance after that date.”
Mr. Calonne advised the council to keep the initial emergency period relatively brief.
“May 31 gives us about three months from today,” said Mr. Calonne. “Then I would caution you about a payback period. Six months seems to be trendy out there. Use your own judgement on whether that’s too long or too short. Obviously, the longer the payback period the less likely it is to get paid back.”
Mr. Jordan asked if that meant if Mr. Newsom extended the period Mr. Calonne would then ask the council if they would like to match the extension.
“Right, presuming you had money to pay any of us at that point,” said Mr. Calonne. “If this emergency lasts that long we’re talking about economic dislocation that will overwhelm these issues.”
Wanting to protect tenants but seeing a potential unintended consequence of such an order, Councilmember Eric Friedman raised the issue of landlords making their loan payments to banks.
“How is that going to impact if all of a sudden they’re defaulting on their loans and they’re going to end up losing their property? Then the business is out, the tenant might be out,” said Mr. Friedman.
“I don’t want to take an action that could result in everybody, landlords and tenants, both commercial and residential, actually being worse off because of the bank loans.”
Mr. Calonne replied that the governor’s order also includes a request of financial institutions not to foreclose on landlords.
“Initial foreclosure action is not available when a local government has imposed eviction limitation,” said Mr. Calonne.
Mr. Jordan raised the point that a local ordinance protects local tenants and landlords, but may not have the power to address the issue of national lenders.
“You’re just I guess presumptively passing the burden up to somebody you feel can bear it, and I don’t know that that’s true. It’s certainly true in more cases than not, but somebody’s going to get hurt too,” said Mr. Jordan.
The state law should apply to landlords who make payments to national lenders as well, Mr. Calonne clarified.
Mr. Freidman and Mayor Cathy Murillo suggested sending a letter to Santa Barbara’s congressional delegation and state representatives requesting rapid action on the matter.
The ordinance will return for council consideration next week.