Ramping up efforts intended to mitigate the economic damage of the coronavirus pandemic to tenants, the Burbank City Council has voted to extend the municipal eviction moratorium and further defer rent payments.
The latter measure, which was passed unanimously on Tuesday, gives residential and commercial renters six months after the eviction moratorium is lifted to repay the rent they owe. That moratorium, which was first issued in March, was extended to Sept. 30, lining up with a similar countywide ordinance, but could be extended again.
An ordinance giving residents and businesses extra time to pay rent was already in place, setting the deadline at Nov. 30. However, City Attorney Amy Albano and Community Development Director Patrick Prescott noted in a staff report that renters may not have the financial means to pay their debts by then.
Landlords are also not allowed to charge interest for unpaid rent during the moratorium and six-month grace period.
Between 10.8% and 12.1% of local renters either deferred their rent payment or entered a payment plan in May and June, according to a city survey of local apartment owners. Between 2.4% and 3.3% did not pay rent at all and are not on a payment plan.
Andrea Ureno, a Burbank renter and single mother who explained that she takes care of her mother and daughter, called the council in support of the moratorium extension during its Tuesday meeting. Her rent, she said, has increased by $150 every year — but her wages haven’t.
“I’m in a desperate situation, because if I can’t pay the rent I will get evicted,” she said, her voice breaking with emotion. “I’m so sorry for the way that I’m speaking, but many of us are in this situation.”
Council members expressed sympathy for Ureno’s plight, with Mayor Sharon Springer saying she would have city staff offer assistance directly to her.
Tonja Stump, chairwoman of the city’s Landlord-Tenant Commission, said the moratorium needed to be extended to protect renters from being forced onto the streets.
But she cautions that those tenants will eventually need to repay their rent.
“They’re going to [have] a rude awakening for when it’s lifted and they’ve got essentially a balloon payment to pay,” she said in a phone interview. “I don’t see how someone going right back to work is going to be able to catch up, and it’s going to cause, unfortunately, a lot of people to lose good standing with their credit.”
And it’s not just tenants that are in danger because of the pandemic, she said. Many landlords, especially the “mom and pop” operations, are also struggling to pay their mortgages and other expenses. As a landlady herself, Stump said that absence of income from even one renter requires her to pull from her savings.
The issue is made worse when tenants can pay their rent but, because of the eviction moratorium, don’t — sometimes out of caution.
So while the moratorium is a necessary response to protect renters, Stump said, she hopes the city also supports landlords.
“It’s not that many of our mom-and-pops have a bunch of units,” she said. “These are people who have paid for their units and it’s their primary income — they don’t work anymore, they’re older — and they still have bills and stuff to pay, and they’re not getting any type … of relief.”
A recent municipal program did aim to help both parties by issuing rent payments directly to landlords on behalf of some residents. The program, which the city launched in June, closed with more than 300 applications the day after it opened. An estimated $395,000 will go to help up to 165 renters.
Of those who applied, more than 55% said they were three months behind in rent.
RENT CONTROL REPORT PROMISED
Council members also asked Albano to gather a preliminary report on the effects of a rent regulation measure that could appear on the ballot in November.
The report will touch on several topics, including the measure’s fiscal impact and effect on local housing. However, Albano warned that since city staff members have only until Friday, Aug. 7 — the deadline by which the council must either adopt the measure or put it on the ballot — to complete the report, it may not cover all the issues desired.
A judge also is expected to rule on a second piece of litigation, a “pre-election challenge” against the measure, on that day. Though she did not expand on the nature of the challenge since the lawsuit is ongoing, Albano said the city believes the proposed ordinance would conflict with its law.
The pre-election challenge has “a high bar to meet,” Albano said.
A judge ordered the city on July 23 to include the rent regulation measure — which would cap annual rent increases and give more authority to the Landlord-Tenant Commission, among other things — on the ballot. Burbank had argued that the petition it had received contained a technical error, preventing the city clerk from approving the measure.
The court hearing on Friday will be followed by a special council session that day to review the report. Albano noted that the information presented could be helpful for both voters and council members, and could be followed by a more robust report at a later date.
Alternatively, if the judge rules in favor of the city, the measure will not be on the ballot.
The council members were unanimously supportive of pursuing a report, with Councilwoman Emily Gabel-Luddy speaking in support of City Clerk Zizette Mullins, who rejected the petition for the ordinance in May.
“There have been some folks who have been pretty heated about our taking this path, and I would like to both reinforce the good judgment of our clerk who made a call,” Gabel-Luddy said. “It wasn’t her job to interpret, it was her job to look at the law and make a decision. And I think she did that…
“We’re going through a process that’s identified in the election code, and that process enables us to study and identify the effects of this initiative on the city and I think that is very, very important because it will enable the voters to be as informed as they can be.”
Council hopeful Anthony Konstantine, one of the plaintiffs who sued the city over the rejected measure, said he is not opposed to the report as long as it is finished by the deadline.
“We’re confident that any unbiased reporting on our ordinance or rent regulation in general is going to come out favorably for us,” he said in a phone interview.