What California's New Law SB-91 Means For You

Sacramento Capitol Building

February 2, 2021

Last week, CA passed SB-91, a new law with big implications for renters and landlords in LA. It won't be enough to protect all of our tenants, but it does a lot to keep rent-burdened Angelenos housed.

Here’s what it means for you. 

SB-91 does two main things:
• Extends the state eviction moratorium through June (LA also has its own eviction moratorium that will remain in effect until one year after the end of the declared emergency)

• Provides a framework for distributing rent relief to tenants and landlords

Under SB-91, tenants can’t be evicted for failure to pay rent due to COVID-19 for the months of March to August 2020.

Tenants are also protected from September 2020 through June 2021, so long as they pay 25% of their rent. That 25% is due at the end of June 2021 at the latest.

Federal rent relief is going to be available soon to households that make 80% or below the area median income (AMI).

While specific guidelines dictating this program have yet to be issued, the 2020 AMI for Los Angeles County is $77,300

SB-91 says the state will pay 80% of qualifying tenants' rent debt -- provided their landlords forgive the remaining 20%. If landlords refuse, tenants will receive 25% of their total rent debt, which when paid to landlords will allow them to accrue eviction protection. 

So long as tenants pay 25% of their rent debt for these months, the remaining 75% is not grounds for eviction. Not now, or ever. 

It doesn’t go away either, however. It will be treated as consumer debt, and landlords can attempt to recover it in small claims court.

A few other notable protections provided by SB-91:
• Landlords cannot evict tenants if they fail to notify them about this program

• Courts may limit the total debt that tenants owe if their landlords refused state rental assistance

Overall, SB-91 provides important new protections and rent relief for many. But because landlords can refuse the initial deal (getting paid 80% of rent debt in exchange for forgiving the final 20%), many tenants -- through no fault of their own -- will receive less assistance.

These tenants -- to whom the state will pay 25% of rent debt -- will be protected from eviction, but they can still be sued in small claims court for the money they owe, and while the courts are allowed to reduce a tenant’s debt burden, there’s no guarantee this will happen.

Many tenants rights groups are also worried that landlords who want to get rid of their tenants will find ways around the state eviction protections. Tactics might include engaging in aggressive litigation or debt collection proceedings that intimidate tenants into moving out, initiating spurious evictions, or simply locking tenants out of their homes.

We know these are possibilities because they’re already happening. Despite the moratorium, tenants have been bullied into eviction throughout the pandemic.

It’s clear that despite these new protections, we have a lot to do to make sure Angelenos know their rights, get rent relief, and receive free legal help when necessary.

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Read the original Twitter thread here