Landlord Harassment During A Pandemic: Combating Landlords Who Ignore the Coronavirus/COVID-19 Eviction Moratorium
As more California counties lift shelter-in-place restrictions and gradually reopen, the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic remains a threat. The Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. Realizing that the Coronavirus/COVID-19 threat is still out there, California Governor Gavin Newsom recently extended the California Coronavirus/COVID-19 eviction moratorium, which protects California tenants impacted by the pandemic. Further, many cities and counties are extending their local Coronavirus/COVID-19 eviction moratorium, which typically allows pandemic-impacted tenants to defer rent payments temporarily. Despite remaining in a state of emergency, we have received an increase in calls from California tenants dealing with intense landlord pressure to start making rent payments and begin repaying deferred rent. This article provides California tenants with tips and solutions to combat ruthless landlords defying Coronavirus/COVID-19 rent deferment laws.
Are you a California tenant with questions about your tenant rights during the Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic?
What Rights Do California Tenants Have During the Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic?
State and local governments have primarily responded to the Coronavirus/COVID-19 threat uniformly by passing a patchwork of ordinances and laws designed to allow temporary rent deferment and halt evictions for California tenants suffering Coronavirus/COVID-19 related income disruption. Although the specific protections diverge, California tenants that qualify for protection have the right to defer rent during the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic. Depending on the particular moratoria, California tenants may have varying repayment periods ranging from as little as thirty days to one year. Generally, many of the Coronavirus/COVID-19 eviction moratoria protect California tenants from eviction for deferring rent, and prevent landlords from imposing penalties or interest on deferred rent. Some Coronavirus/COVID-19 moratoria contain penalties and provide for attorney fee recovery for landlord violations.
Can California Landlords Demand Early Repayment of Deferred Rent During the Coronavirus/COVID-19 State of Emergency?
No, California tenants who have a right to defer rent do not have to repay the rent during the Coronavirus/COVID-19 state of emergency. Consequently, California landlords cannot serve three-day notices of pay rent or quit for deferred rent, verbally demand that the tenant repay deferred rent, or threaten the tenant with penalties or interest for failing to repay the deferred rent.
Can California Landlords Report Deferred Rent to Credit Reporting Agencies During the Coronavirus/COVID-19 State of Emergency?
No, California tenants who have a right to defer rent have not missed their rent payments. Their rent is not considered late, and the landlord cannot report the deferred rent to a credit reporting agency during the Coronavirus/COVID-19 State of Emergency.
Similarly, the landlord cannot report deferred rent to a credit reporting agency during the time the tenant is allowed to pay off the rent deferred under the Coronavirus/COVID-19 eviction moratoria.
How Else Are California Tenants Protected During the Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic?
In addition to the Coronavirus/COVID-19 eviction moratoria, some cities and counties have passed rent increase moratoria, which generally prohibit rent increases on tenants impacted by the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic. Some cities have banned all rent increases during the Coronavirus/COVID-19 state of emergency.
California tenants are protected from rent increases by more than 10% during the Coronavirus/COVID-19 state of emergency. California Penal Code § 396.
Notably, new unlawful detainer (“eviction”) actions are temporarily halted statewide during the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic. A California court may not issue an eviction summons or complaint, unless the eviction is necessary to protect public health and safety. Presently, the California Coronavirus/COVID-19 eviction ban will remain effective for the ninety days following the cessation of the Coronavirus/COVID-19 state of emergency. This rule essential prohibits nearly all eviction lawsuits during the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.
How Can California Tenants Combat Landlord Harassment During the Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic?
California tenants experiencing landlord harassment can fight back by:
1. Demand the Landlord Cease Harassment During the Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic
In writing, the tenant must inform the landlord that their unlawful behavior constitutes harassment and demands the landlord stop.
2. Document Landlord Harassment During the Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic
A tenant facing landlord harassment should communicate with their landlords in writing, including via text message & email. If the landlord verbally harasses the tenant, the tenant should memorialize the harassment in writing by sending an immediate text or email recounting the interaction. Creating a written record is helpful should the tenant be forced into taking legal action.
3. Report Landlord Harassment to the California Attorney General’s Office
Although the California Attorney General does not represent individual tenants, the office is empowered to investigate or prosecute landlord misconduct on behalf of the public. After receiving a tenant complaint, the office may decide to take action against an abusive landlord. The California Attorney General can be contacted online or by calling (800) 952-5225.
4. Call the Police When Facing Violent or Dangerous Landlord Harassment
When landlord harassment becomes violent, and poses an imminent threat or danger to you or your family, call the police. Make sure to create a police report.
5. Take Legal Action Against Sustained Landlord Harassment During the Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic
If the landlord does not stop the harassment, the tenant should consider taking legal action. If the tenant’s damages are less than $10,000, small claims court is the appropriate court for their claim. For long-standing landlord abuse likely lasting throughout the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, the tenant may sue in a higher court, which allows for attorney representation.
If you are a California tenant with questions about your tenant rights during the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, or have questions about California Rent Control (AB 1482), contact Astanehe Law to speak with an experienced tenant attorney.
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