California Assembly Bill 2179 was signed into law on March 31, which will extend some of the tenant protections put in place by the original COVID-19 Tenant Relief eviction moratorium, but only for tenants that have submitted rental relief requests on or before March 31. The bill will also prevent any local governing body from enacting its own COVID-19 rent moratorium until at least June 30.
The bill passed the state senate with a 36-1 vote, and both State Senator Monique Limón and Assemblymember Steve Bennett voted in favor of the bill. Under AB 2179, tenants who applied for rental relief on or by March 31 and are awaiting approval or payment are protected from eviction until June 30, 2022. Due to the extensive backlog of applications for assistance, this bill was created to allow more time for funds to be distributed. Any tenant or household that has not applied for this assistance is subject to the eviction laws created prior to the pandemic and moratorium.
Limón emphasized that AB 2179 is a very narrowly focused bill and was not meant to be an extension of the eviction moratorium but an extension of rental relief. Limón told the Independent the bill would only impact about 160,000-190,000 households in California that have applied for rental relief.
“[The bill] does more than the alternative, which would have been everybody running out of protections,” she said. There is a larger conversation to be had about tenant protections, Limón said, but this bill was created to target those who have yet to receive aid and are counting on receiving it. “I don’t think the bill solves all the issues we have,” she said.
Since 2021, attorneys at Santa Barbara Legal Aid have seen a steady uptick in tenants reaching out for assistance and in landlords and property owners filing for eviction or unlawful detainer through the court. Jennifer Smith, executive director of the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County, said in recent months, Legal Aid has also seen an increase in eviction notice activity, or landlords and property owners serving tenants with eviction notices. Tenant laws have become very complex in the last two years, Smith said, even before the COVID-19 pandemic began. The California Tenant Protection Act of 2019 went into effect in January 2020, just before the pandemic began, and included requiring landlords to have “just cause” when serving evictions and limiting annual rent increases.
Groups like the Santa Barbara Tenants Union have been at the forefront of tenants issues and have brought attention to issues like “soft evictions,” or those are carried out through threats and intimidation tactics rather than the court.
“Unfortunately, what we see because of added complexity, there may be landlords who threaten things or deliver notices that are not lawful,” Smith said. “Nobody can be lawfully evicted without an order from a judge,” she said.
Smith encouraged both tenants and landlords to seek legal representation, to inform both parties of their rights and responsibilities. “It’s important for folks to reach out and understand their rights,” she said.