Los Angeles County Braces for Potential Wave of Evictions as COVID-19 Renter Protections End
For the last three years, Los Angeles County has upheld eviction protections if renters are unable to pay rent due to the pandemic. However, as the county’s COVID-19 emergency comes to an end on Friday, so too will these vital protections. Local elected officials, including L.A. Mayor Karen Bass, as well as homeless service providers are preparing for a potential surge in evictions throughout L.A. County once these safeguards expire.
Anne Miskey, CEO of Union Station Homeless Services, expressed concerns about the precarious situation many residents find themselves in. She stated, “We know that a huge number of people are really hanging on by a thread. What this could do is send a lot of people into homelessness.” Recent U.S. Census Bureau survey data revealed that approximately 246,000 renter households in the L.A. area were already behind on rent before the Friday deadline.
The growth of homelessness in L.A. slowed during the pandemic, a surprising development that researchers attribute to the area’s extensive tenant protections. However, the number of people sleeping outdoors has continued to rise in recent years. Despite a significant influx of resources during the pandemic, over 69,000 individuals remain unhoused in the region each night.
Until now, the economic impacts of the pandemic have served as a defense against eviction for low-income renters in L.A. County who could not make timely rent payments. Starting Saturday, renters throughout the county will no longer be able to use COVID-19 as a reason to delay rent payments.
Amy Tannenbaum, an attorney with L.A.-based nonprofit Public Counsel, highlighted the ongoing struggles faced by tenants who were laid off during the pandemic or experienced the loss of a family’s primary income earner due to COVID-19. “We’re three years into this pandemic, and there’s just not a recognition that the impacts are still really affecting people. People had trouble paying their rent in L.A. before the pandemic, and this just really compounded it. Folks are really scared,” Tannenbaum said.
The expiration of the COVID-19 eviction rules represents a significant policy shift for L.A. County, which has maintained pandemic-related tenant protections far longer than other regions in the country. While the county’s elected leaders have extended the safeguards twice in recent months, they recently voted against a proposal to prolong certain eviction limits for an additional year.
During the pandemic, local protections have helped stabilize thousands of L.A. renters in a county where the majority of residents rent rather than own homes. Data obtained from the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department indicates that evictions fell by about 85% in the final nine months of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. However, eviction rates have been climbing back to pre-pandemic levels in recent months, and tenant advocates fear that many who benefited from the protections may soon become homeless.
Homeless service providers, such as the St. Joseph Center, are working to reach at-risk renters before eviction occurs. The organization can offer homelessness prevention funds or help renters find more affordable housing. LaTonya Smith, the center’s interim president and CEO, stressed the importance of such interventions, as an eviction on a tenant’s record can make it difficult to find housing in the future.
Renters in need of assistance can turn to StayHousedLA.org, a group of service providers offering legal aid during the pandemic, which has been funded by the city and county of Los Angeles. Those facing eviction court cases can use TenantPowerToolkit.org to prepare a response to the filing. Jonathan Jager, an attorney with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, urged tenants to educate themselves about the expiring COVID-19 rules and seek help proactively, as evictions can proceed rapidly.
Jager advised, “What I would tell tenants is to not be afraid to ask for help. Tenants need to be proactive to try to avoid the consequences of eviction. If a tenant loses an eviction lawsuit, that record becomes public and gets picked up by screening services that a lot of landlords use.”
As the COVID-19 renter protections come to an end, it is essential for tenants to be aware of their rights and available resources. Legal aid organizations and service providers in the region are working diligently to support those facing eviction and mitigate the potential surge in homelessness. As the pandemic continues to impact the lives of L.A. residents, the need for continued assistance remains critical for many renters who are still struggling to regain their financial footing.