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COVID-19 UPDATE: CA Landlord's Guide Coronavirus Guide

In an effort to assist landlords and property owners, Brennan Law Firm has issued the CALIFORNIA LANDLORD'S CORONAVIRUS GUIDE in anticipation of potential tenant issues (i.e. job loss, in the coming months and keep investment properties profitable. Here is what you need to know:

  • Los Angeles Superior Court created a fictional legal holiday between March 17 and April 16, 2020. The result of the holiday is an extension of the permissible time limits in which tenants must either comply with 3-day notices and/or file their answers in existing unlawful detainer matters.

  • Many local municipalities have restricted a landlord’s ability to evict a tenant for non-payment of rent. While some cities have decided to protect residential tenants exclusively, others have decided to implement eviction limits for both residential and commercial tenants.

About the eviction “moratorium”:

  • While many articles state that there is a “moratorium on evictions” Brennan Law Firm is unaware of a single “moratorium” which prevents all evictions. Landlords should understand that, regardless of the municipality, landlords may not evict a tenant for non-payment of rent related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including loss of income due to a workplace closure, child care expenditures due to school closures, health care expenses related to being ill with COVID-19, or caring for a member of the tenant’s household who is ill with COVID-19, or reasonable expenditures that stem from government-ordered emergency measures. Tenants who were already behind in their rent prior to this situation are not able to use this defense in an eviction.

  • Some municipalities require the tenant to provide evidence of the connection between the virus and their non-payment of rent, (e.g., a letter from their employer, their paystubs, etc.) while other municipalities do not.

  • The ordinances consistently state that the tenant will still be obligated to pay lawfully charged rent. Tenants will have up to six months following the expiration of the local emergency period to repay any back due rent.

Brennan Law Firm recommends that landlords use this time in a proactive manner:

  • Provide the tenants with resources they can use. Distribute the following documents to tenants addressing the need to work together and advising them to pay their rent on time. The documents, (written in both English and Spanish), provide your tenants with an extensive list of resources they can use to keep themselves and their families safe during this crisis.

  • Deepen relationship with trust and compassion to withstand this temporary situation.

  • Revise your future screening procedures to ask prior landlords for a specific payment history for the last 12 months. As you screen applicants, you will want to know from the existing landlords whether the tenants paid rent during this pandemic and how much is owed as of the date of the phone call.

  • Ask your tenants about necessary repairs and to take care of any maintenance matters that might exist. Make the repairs to avoid the habitability claims that are sure to arise in the future as a defense to an eviction for non-payment of rent. Document the repairs and, if possible, have the tenant sign off that there is nothing wrong with their unit or that all the repairs have been made. Use common sense and social distancing. Ideally, serve your notices before the end of March so you can enter before April’s rent becomes due. How should you handle tenants who refuse access due to concerns about the virus? Document it. Ask them to sign, email, or text you their refusal to allow access.

Can I use another approach?

  • Consider voluntarily “deferring” rent in advance of April 1, 2020 for those tenants who produce evidence that they or another in their household have lost their job. Brennan Law Firm has drafted a simple letter (like the one provided here) in order to do this The letter should also remind them that they are not “relieved” of their obligations to pay rent and that they will have a pre-determined amount of time to repay the unpaid rent that accrues during the crisis.

  • A properly drafted promissory note might be wise and may open other possibilities should the tenants fail to pay the unpaid rent.

  • For those landlords in rent-controlled jurisdictions, consider entering into an agreement with them in which the deferred rent is “permanently waived” provided they vacate the unit by a specific date after the pandemic has ended. Brennan Law Firm encourages a more detailed discussion here.

I sincerely hope that this has provided you with some valuable information. For more questions, please reach out to Brennan Law Firm (626) 294-0500. Best, DDHW D. Danielle Hoston Wrighster

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