In anticipation of future state legislation and hopes of mitigating growing confusion among renters, landlords and their legal advisers, the City Council elected this week to abdicate its own rent repayment schedule and align with the state’s own plan.
Mayor Vrej Agajanian and Councilmen Dan Brotman and Ardy Kassakhian supported the measure on Tuesday, with Councilwoman Paula Devine voting against it and Councilman Ara Najarian choosing to abstain after its passage was assured. The decision ends the city’s previously adopted 12-month quarterly rent repayment plan that was scheduled for first installment at the end of November.
Though early discussion of the matter seemed to point the council to retaining its own schedule, the general consensus that more was to come from the state helped guide the decision for simplicity. Indeed, officials needed the differences between the two policies explained a handful of times on Tuesday. Agajanian first advocated to line up with the state, saying “otherwise, we’ll create such confusion that every tenant will have to get an attorney” to keep up.
“We’re going to have our set of rules and state rules, and we’d be causing problems for everyone,” the mayor added.
Both sets of plans consider a “protected time period” that runs from March 1 through Aug. 31, in which tenants could forgo paying their full rent without the risk of eviction in the event they could show economic hardship related to the COVID-19 pandemic. They also consider a “transition time period,” running from Sept. 1 through Jan. 31.
The principal difference between the city’s and state’s plans is that under the city’s plan, tenants would have to make 25% of their deferred rent from the protected time period by Nov. 30, Feb. 28, May 31 and Aug. 31. The state’s plan calls for the full sum of the rent from the protected time period to be paid by March 1.
“You’re giving them another five months by sticking with our schedule,” City Attorney Michael Garcia summarized.
Devine supported the city’s plan as being less urgent for the city’s renters and also for the sake of not making them have to again figure out what was due when.
“To then throw them into another set of rules and regulations, I think might be more confusing. If we stick with our regulation and our repayment schedule, it gives them more time to repay. If we go with the state, they have to pay it all at once and that could be really difficult for some of our residents.”
However, other council members anticipated further legislative progress on solutions for renters and landlords, particularly one bill that was shelved in the prior session that calls for the state to assume and collect the rent debt in exchange for tax credits given to landlords.
“Perhaps it does make sense for us to align with the state, see what happens when the legislature comes back, see if they come up with something that’s more fundamental, that’s going to resolve the issue of tenants without just throwing the problem to landlords, which is all we’re really able to do right now,” Brotman said.
Kassakhian said he “somewhat reluctantly” agreed to go to the state’s schedule.
“The state’s actions make it very difficult for us to hold onto this without causing confusion,” he said.
The council also did away with the city’s freeze on rent increases after noting that rent prices have gradually fallen throughout the pandemic.