Paying Rent in the Corona Era: Why bother?
Local landlords are usually mom and pops. But whether you need to pay your rent is a more complicated question
April 14, 2020
As we all sit at home surrounded by our family 24/7 while searching for excuses to leave the premises for a brief break, many of us are wondering in this city where more than 70 percent of the population are not homeowners and a pro-renters group has dominated local politics for over four decades, "should I pay the landlord?" The short answer is yes, especially since contrary to popular belief, most local landlords are not large conglomerates, and many are equivalent to mom and pop stores. Whether you need to pay your rent is a more complicated question.
As has been widely reported, City Manager Rick Cole issued a moratorium last month that exempted residents and businesses from being evicted for non-payment of rent due to the epidemic. This order has been affirmed by the City Council in two online meetings, and currently extends through May 31.
Among the excuses you are allowed to have for not paying your rent are suffering from coronavirus, caring for somebody with it, layoff or loss of work hours due to the epidemic, extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses (what classifies as extraordinary has not been defined), and for businesses--significant loss of revenue. Not included on the list, and we checked it twice, is stress or buying too many Nintendo Switch games.
Also exempt from eviction are those who might be forced out of their homes due to the Ellis Act. This is a state law passed in the 1980s that allows landlords to "go out of the rental business" and transform their building into a condo or possibly a strange house with lots of rooms that each have a kitchen and bathroom.
"Residential displacement in this moment creates public health risks both for those tenants in the units who are displaced and also with whom they might interact in searching for housing in this environment," City Attorney Lane Dilg said.
If you believe you qualify for any of the eviction exemptions, you must do more than just not pay your rent. Tenants are required to notify their landlord that they won't be paying the rent within seven days after it was due. Also, they have to fill out a form that appears on the City's website. But if you are a landlord, don't expect to be able to evict somebody because he or she didn't go through the proper protocol. This is Santa Monica after all, and we know who runs this town (which is a good or bad thing depending on your perspective).
The National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC), an organization that represents landlords nationwide, said this week that 69 percent of households (no jokes, please) paid their rent by April 5. That compares to 81 percent by March 5 and roughly the same amount for April 5 of last year. No information has been released on how these statistics break down locally.
"The COVID-19 outbreak has resulted in significant health and financial challenges for apartment residents and multifamily owners, operators and employees in communities across the country," said Doug Bibby, president of NMHC. "However, it is important to note that a large number of residents met their obligations despite unparalleled circumstances, and we will see that figure increase over the coming weeks."
Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR), the unofficial political party of the "one-party state" that is Santa Monica, hosted a two-hour session this past week on tenant issues in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic. The Observer determined we'd rather drink bleach than watch this. But if you are interested, a recording of the session appears on SMRR's website. This is especially noteworthy because despite its power and importance, SMRR rarely updates its website at all to keep in line with its mysterious existence.
Also likely to weigh in on this discussion is the Santa Monica Rent Control Board. It was scheduled to meet Thursday night after The Observer went to print. Nothing on the board's agenda for Thursday involved coronavirus tenant issues, but the topic will more than likely come up during the meeting. The board also has another meeting scheduled for later this month.