The City Council once again extended its protections for residential renters this week, prolonging Glendale’s eviction moratorium and rent freeze till at least Aug. 31 as the nation continues to reel from the coronavirus pandemic.
In renewing the eviction moratorium, the council on Tuesday also set modified guidelines by which renters must show pandemic-related hardship as a reason for deferring their monthly rent payments. Those tenants must show documentation — such as bank statements or check stubs indicating income loss, bills showing new medical or child-care expenses or a letter from an employer attesting to reduced work — to their landlords on or before the rent due date.
Council members certainly seem aware of the precariousness of continuing to kick the can down the road with regard to rent deferment. The majority of city residents are renters, a situation that creates a perfect storm of apartment dwellers — who already had a hard time affording rent — losing their income and mom-and-pop landlords suddenly suffering their own loss of income.
“It’s a very sad and very difficult time for tenants especially and landlords also,” Mayor Vrej Agajanian said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Nobody was expecting to see something like this and I don’t see any solution to it in the near future.”
Public comments were, as is typical, split between renters asking for continued relief against what they depicted as aggressive landlords and landlords urging the city to remove those protections, of which some said tenants are taking unfair advantage. Some of those tenants this time, however, made a point to acknowledge the hardship faced by family-owned rental operations, as opposed to the larger complexes run by management companies.
“Many of these mom-and-pop landlords have their life savings wrapped up in these buildings,” said Councilman Ara Najarian, pushing back against general calls nationwide to “cancel rent.” “It’s not just mortgages they have to pay. They have to pay insurance, utility bills and maintenance costs. So please, let’s take an even discussion, an even keel, on this issue because some of these extremists are really spinning this way too far than where it has to be.”
Councilman Dan Brotman said he agreed that the dehumanizing of tenants and landlords was disheartening to hear.
“We’re hearing it from both sides,” Brotman said. “We’re hearing about all of these tenants are scofflaws and they’re all taking advantage. I’m sure there are some that are, but I just can’t accept that characterization of tenants. And the same thing with landlords. Most landlords, it’s their business, it’s their livelihood, especially the local mom-and-pops, and they’re doing the best they can do. Yes, there are some that are predatory, but we can’t start this blanket demonizing of one side against the other. It really is dangerous and it just troubles me.”
Even if the council were to suddenly end its eviction moratorium, landlords would not legally be able to force tenants out of their units anyway. The state Judicial Council has imposed a blanket shutdown of eviction hearings on account of the pandemic, a cessation that is currently slated to continue for 90 days after the day when California eventually lifts its state of emergency.
The California Legislature also is considering a relief program that would, as currently proposed, have the state assume the rent debt of eligible tenants in exchange for sellable tax credits to those landlords.
Until then, however, local governments continue to shoulder the political burden of this standoff. Though cities like Glendale have made available funds for limited rent subsidies, demand outweighs supply: More than 6,000 applications were submitted for the roughly 300 packages Glendale made available for such relief.
“That shows that there is a tremendous need out there and people are hurting,” Councilman Ardy Kassakhian said.
Najarian voiced accountability concerns about tenants who aren’t disclosing their payments from unemployment insurance and worried that the current crisis would force smaller-scale landlords out of business and result in management companies taking a stronger presence in the city.
“It’s going to send the entire balance of housing down the tubes,” he said. “In short, it’s a very difficult situation. I think we have to be even-handed when we talk about remedies and have as light a touch as possible. This is not a situation that this government can resolve. We don’t have the resources. We don’t have a Treasury [Department] or a Federal Reserve to pump out money.”