On Tuesday, a group of apartment owners and landlords sued California, Los Angeles County, and several Southern Californian cities over several tenant eviction protections enacted since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March.
Unlawfully and illegally commandeered without compensation
The numerous plaintiffs want damages of at least $300,000 each to offset the lost rent and income from tenants who have not paid rent in the last six month due to the state, county, and local eviction protection ordinances, as well as freeing up landlords and property owners from being bound by law to comply with the ordinances. The suit itself said that the rental properties “have been unlawfully and illegally commandeered without compensation, just or otherwise.”
The suit also noted “While purportedly intending to provide relief to tenants, the ordinances and other enactments are illegal, imbalanced and significantly infringe on their constitutional rights. Undoubtedly, a significant percentage of the tenants who have not been paying rent will not pay back the arrearages.”
Many landlords and rental property owners have felt loss of income in recent months, especially landlords with only one or two rental properties who are renting for retirement income.
“A lot of us don’t know what to do,” Susan Chang, a Los Angeles landlord who also assists other independent landlords, explained to the Globe. “At least three I know are now looking to sell. I myself, I had to dig into my savings. An older couple who has a small block of apartments is paying off costs with their social security.”
“We understand that these tenants can’t pay and can’t be forced out until at least February because of COVID-19. But where is our assistance? How do we get money from this. The buck is supposed to stop at the government, not in the middle.”
“A lot of properties will be moved into ownership groups and that means rents are going to go up. With how many are in line for eviction now, next year will be a mess. And that’s not even getting into the rise of insurance costs, which is just stinging even more.”
“Right now though we are suffering. We’re doing everything we can to save our buildings. You really don’t know how frustrating it is until you walk past a tenants apartment who have said that they haven’t been able to pay since April because of COVID-19, and then you see them get a new TV from Amazon.”
“We need to start getting rent again.”
City, tenant response to the lawsuit
California and Los Angeles County, as well as the cities of Agora Hills, Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Los Angeles, Santa Clarita, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood, have largely not reacted to the new lawsuit.
Los Angeles County issued a statement after numerous press inquiries: “Los Angeles County is committed to protecting the health and safety of its residents through an unprecedented public health and economic crisis.”
Tenant groups blasted the lawsuit, saying that tenants were the ones most at risk.
“We literally have no jobs with whatever unemployment we’re getting going to food, medical, and other expenses we need to live,” said LA tenant group leader Gloria Fernandez in an interview with the Globe. “How are we to blame? If we’re out, they’re out too. And we’ll pay when this is all over.”
Most of the defendants have known since Friday that a lawsuit was coming, with several cities reportedly meeting with lawyers to discuss the case over the weekend.
“There was an emergency Zoom call over the weekend before it spilled out into the press,” an employee with one of the cities who didn’t wish to be named, said to the Globe. “I had to manage a few things around it, and when it was over the few people in the office told me that ‘nobody is happy’ about the lawsuit.”
“A lot of cities around here, including my own, are facing tight budgets and budget cuts right now, and the last thing they needed was a potentially expensive lawsuit or an also expensive settlement.”
The latest development in the long fight over eviction moratorium dates this year
Earlier this year, evictions, as well as rent and mortgage moratoriums, were expected to restart in early September. However, with many Senate and Assembly bills trying to push that date out further, debate over an extension grew more tense in late August. Governor Gavin Newsom finally signed AB 3088 hours before the moratorium was to end, extending moratoriums until January 31st, as well as adding other renter and mortgage payer protections.
The moratorium is now due to be challenged by the lawsuit.
The suit, filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court, is expected to be heard soon.