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OAKLAND — California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced that he sent warning letters to 91 law firms across the state that represent landlords in eviction cases after being notified that some firms and their clients may have violated the law. The California Department of Justice’s Housing Strike Force has received reports that landlords, or the attorneys representing them, may be falsely declaring that tenants have not notified them of a pending emergency rental assistance application in order to push through evictions. COVID-19 emergency tenant protections prohibit landlords from moving forward with eviction proceedings while a tenant’s rental assistance application is pending.
“We have reason to believe that some landlords and their attorneys may be filing false declarations to push hardworking Californians out of their homes,” said Attorney General Bonta. “This is unacceptable, and more importantly, absolutely illegal. California families were already struggling with the high cost of housing before the pandemic, and these past two years have only made things worse. Our Housing Strike Force is investigating these reports, and if necessary, we will take action.”
Under the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act, landlords are not permitted to evict tenants for unpaid rent due to COVID-19 related financial hardship unless (1) government rental assistance has been denied or (2) the landlord certifies that they completed a rental assistance application, 20 days have passed since the application was submitted, and the landlord has not received notice from either the government or the tenant indicating that the tenant has applied for rental assistance. Legislation passed today extends these eviction protections through June for those who have applied for rental assistance by March 31, 2022.
The Housing Strike Force has received reports that some attorneys representing landlords may be filing declarations – or allowing their clients to file declarations — that falsely indicate that the landlord has received no notice that the tenant applied for rental assistance, even when there is clear evidence to the contrary. Likewise, it appears that some attorneys are continuing to prosecute existing eviction actions after learning that the declaration supporting issuance of a court summons was false. The Housing Strike Force received these reports through ongoing outreach to tenant advocacy organizations, including during a series of roundtables hosted across California earlier this month.
Filing false declarations in court violates multiple state laws, as does continuing to prosecute a case after learning that the declaration used to initiate it is false. In the letter, Attorney General Bonta strongly encourages law firms to review the eviction cases they have on file or plan to file to ensure compliance with the law. The Housing Strike Force encourages Californians to send complaints or tips related to housing to email@example.com.
If you are a tenant struggling to pay rent due to COVID-19 related financial hardship, apply for rental assistance today. The deadline to apply is today. Income eligibility limits apply. You must take action to get this assistance.
If you have submitted a rental assistance application, notify your landlord in writing immediately. Save a copy of the email, text, or letter that you send. If you are sued or receive an eviction notice, don’t ignore it – get help. Information on legal aid in your area is available at lawhelpca.org.
Attorney General Bonta is committed to addressing the state’s housing shortage and affordability crisis and alleviating its effects on California families. In November, Attorney General Bonta announced the creation of a Housing Strike Force within the California Department of Justice and launched a Housing Portal on DOJ’s website with resources and information for California homeowners and tenants. The Housing Strike Force is actively monitoring compliance with state housing laws, and recently sent letters notifying Woodside and Pasadena of violation of SB 9 and Encinitas of violations of state housing laws relating to its rejection of a proposed mixed use development project. Last year, the Housing Strike Force secured a $3.5 million judgment against Wedgewood that resolved allegations that the company was unlawfully evicting tenants from properties purchased at foreclosure sales.
A copy of the letter can be found here.