Palo Alto prohibits evictions during coronavirus emergency

PALO ALTO — In a move that city leaders hope will keep
residents in their homes amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, Palo
Alto city council members on Monday voted unanimously to adopt an
emergency moratorium on residential evictions.

In a 6-0 vote — with council member Liz Kniss abstaining
because she owns rental property in the city — council members
decided to prohibit residential evictions for non-payment of rent
due to loss of income related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The urgency ordinance says tenants must provide a written notice
to their landlord that they have lost income because of the
pandemic and show supporting documents, though the tenant is still
responsible for unpaid rent. The moratorium will last for 120 days
after the city ends its local state of emergency, and no late fees,
interest or penalty will be assessed for unpaid rent.

For all council members on Monday, the move to prohibit
evictions was a necessary one. As the coronavirus continued to
spread in Santa Clara County last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an
executive order on March 16 granting cities the right to implement
eviction prevention protections for commercial and residential
renters.

With a piece-meal effort by counties and cities across the state
to protect renters, Newsom’s office has also said he is
considering statewide protections, as are state legislators
currently drafting bills in recess before heading back to
Sacramento on April 13.

For council member Alison Cormack, the moratorium is an effort
by the city to mitigate the impacts of coronavirus on the local
economy. With a shelter-in-place order adversely impacting local
businesses who have already had to lay off staff or cut hours,
Cormack said it’s imperative for the city to act.

“The most concerning thing is that more severe economic
impacts are anticipated in the coming weeks,” Cormack said. “We
certainly need to get ahead of that and help as much as we
can.”

But while she acknowledged that the city council’s move is
“the right thing to do,” there are also unintended consequences
that could come out of it.

“There are people who rely on rental income as their own
income and it’s not clear whether banks are going to be as
forgiving,” Cormack said. “We need to pay attention to this as
we go forward.”

Council member DuBois said there are already protections through
the federal government for those who can prove that they won’t be
able to pay their mortgage because of the economic impacts of the
coronavirus outbreak. He said wider protections are likely to come
soon, so people should watch for mortgage policies.

Worried about unintentionally declaring a rent holiday, council
member Eric Filseth said he wants to make sure that the ordinance
doesn’t “inadvertently hurt small landlords.”

City attorney Molly Stump said the ordinance “doesn’t
relieve someone from paying rent,” and added that tenants should
still pay their rent as it is “less of a hole you have to dig
yourself out of later.”

Still, council member Greg Tanaka asked the council to think of
a plan to keep small time landlords from losing their income or
their homes during this crisis.

“How do we balance this and take care of everyone?” Tanaka
asked Stump. “I’m worried that landlords don’t have a
backstop. This measure could destroy more than a few people.”

Offering up an amendment to the ordinance that council members
voted on Monday, Tanaka said he’d like to ask staff to bring
forward a measure to help small time landlords before they are set
to come back April 6, though council member Cormack did not accept
it. A measure to potentially protect commercial tenants will also
be on the docket for April 6.

“I share your concern,” Cormack said to Tanaka. “But I
think tonight we are here to protect those who only have $400 for
an emergency, and this is an emergency.”

The ordinance passed by council members doesn’t go far enough
for some in Palo Alto, according to several letters sent to the
council Monday and over the weekend.

Palo Alto resident Maryjane Marcus wondered how renters would be
expected to pay back rent if they have lost income.

“I urge you to support the measure to prohibit evictions in
Palo Alto related to COVID,” Marcus said. “But how would people
be able to pay that deferred rent? They can’t pay because they
lost their wages, and they won’t double even if the economy
recovers in a month. People should not be penalized for a public
health crisis.”

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Throughout the meeting Monday, council members made clear that the
urgency ordinance was a health and public safety effort by the city
to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Calista Danae Triantis, who wrote a letter to the council, said
the council should focus on the health impact of an eviction
moratorium. Impacts on

“Too many members of this community ‐ workers,  parents,
neighbors ‐ are already rent‐burdened,” Triantis said.”As
this crisis unfolds, I’ve become severely concerned for what it
will mean for people I interact with every day. The threat of
eviction during this time would not only be unjust toward our
neighbors, it would also weaken all of us by making us more
susceptible to the virus and its impact. If a tenant is afraid to
stay home from work and risk losing their source of income, it puts
the entire city at risk.”

Source: FS – All – Real Estate News 1
Palo Alto prohibits evictions during coronavirus emergency