By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE
(The Center Square) – On the same day California extended eviction protections for tenants who applied for the state’s rent relief program, Attorney General Rob Bonta sent a letter warning eviction lawyers that some of their clients may have violated the law by filing “false declarations” to evict tenants.
Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis signed a bill that expands eviction protections through June 30 for renters who applied to the state’s rent relief program by Thursday’s midnight deadline. The state received nearly 506,800 aid applications by Thursday’s deadline to apply for the program, though only 223,000 households have been served thus far, according to the state’s relief dashboard.
Under the new law, tenants have eviction protections through June 30 as they await rental assistance, meaning that a tenant cannot be evicted for unpaid rent due to COVID-19-related hardships unless they have been denied rental assistance or failed to apply for the program on time.
Mr. Bonta announced Friday, however, that the state’s Department of Justice’s Housing Strike Force has received reports that some landlords or attorneys representing landlords have filed declarations that “falsely indicate that the landlord has received no notice that the tenant applied for rental assistance, even when there is clear evidence to the contrary.” Mr. Bonta also noted that the strike force has heard reports of attorneys who are “continuing to prosecute existing eviction actions” even after learning that the declaration was false.
“We have reason to believe that some landlords and their attorneys may be filing false declarations to push hardworking Californians out of their homes,” Mr. Bonta said in a statement Thursday. “This is unacceptable, and more importantly, absolutely illegal. California families were already struggling with the high cost of housing before the pandemic, and these past two years have only made things worse.
“Our Housing Strike Force is investigating these reports, and if necessary, we will take action.”
In the letter, Mr. Bonta urged lawyers to review the “unlawful detainer cases” on file to ensure compliance with the law.
For tenants who applied for rent assistance by Thursday’s deadline, Mr. Bonta said it’s crucial to notify their landlord in writing immediately. If they are sued or served an eviction notice, he said tenants should seek legal aid immediately.