Property owners and landlords are pushing back on Costa Mesa’s eviction moratorium that allows tenants financially impacted by the pandemic to forego rent payments until four months after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s lifts the state of emergency.
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The city council will meet in closed session tonight to discuss an expected lawsuit from property owners and landlords over the ban with city attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow. The city was one of several in the county to implement such a ban to protect renters as the economic effects of the virus worsened.
Property owners are insisting the city council repeal the ban immediately and that the city has assumed the worst of them by implementing the ban.
“The Eviction Ban is problematic on many legal fronts and purports to single out landlords and property owners throughout the City to absorb the residents’ and commercial tenants’ claimed economic losses attendant to the crisis,” said Douglas J. Dennington, a partner at the Rutan & Tucker law firm, in a letter to city councilmembers.
The 9-page letter states that the firm represents a “large” number of landlords and property owners in the city. The letter does not identify who those landlords and property owners are.
“The Eviction Ban provides no relief to property owners and landlords, who (presumably) are expected to continue meeting their contractual obligations under the respective leases even where tenants are not honoring theirs,” Dennington wrote.
City officials have refused to comment on the letter.
“We really can’t comment at this point. The council will discuss the letter tomorrow in closed session,” said Tony Dodero, the public information officer for Costa Mesa.
The city council voted 5-2 to adopt an eviction ban ordinance for residential and commercial properties on March 24 but The ordinance did not pass a ⅘ vote which it needed to be approved.
However a moratorium on evictions is already in effect in the city because City Manager Lori Ann Farrell Harrison issued an emergency regulation on April 1 to do so. Acting as the director of emergency services, Harrison has the power to issue regulation on matters as they reasonably relate to protecting life and property during a time of emergency.
Dennington said that the way the ban was implemented is raising questions as to whether the city had sufficient grounds to claim that it is a matter of protecting life and property.
“If people have been ordered to close down because they are deemed non essential, but they cannot make their payments and they decide that they’re going to ignore that order and continue operating so that they can make their rent so that they can’t be evicted that is going to endanger the public’s health and safety,” Harrison said at the meeting on April 7.
On March 27, Newsom issued an executive order establishing a statewide moratorium on residential evictions, banning law enforcement and the courts from enforcing eviction through the month of May.
In Santa Ana, landlords won’t be able to raise rents on until at least May 31 under an emergency order intended to help residents financially strained by the Coronavirus pandemic.
The city has also stalled the eviction process by landlords during the extent of the crisis but is expected to debate the issue as well at tonight’s public meeting after some pushback from landlord groups.
A majority of the Costa Mesa council has supported the moratorium in the city saying the ban would bring much needed relief to renters hit hard by business closures intended to slow the spread of the virus and provide a safety net for those that can’t pay the rent on time.
“What we’re trying to do is prevent homelessness, and prevent businesses that have complied with the government order to keep our community safe and healthy and prevent sickness and deaths from losing their business and from being on the streets and creating community spread of the COVID virus in our community,” said Councilmember John Stephens at a council meeting on April 7.
“The point of the matter is, we’re not preventing them from getting income. The COVID virus is preventing them from getting income,” Stephens said about property owners at the meeting.
Costa Mesa has roughly 41,000 households in a city of about 114,000 residents. The city’s median household income is about $79,000 with 13 percent of its residents living in poverty, according to the US Census Bureau.
Council members Sandra Genis and Allan Mansoor have spoken out against the moratorium.
They have said in past meetings that a ban on evictions will pull the rug out from under mom and pop landlords, some who are senior citizens and depend on the rent as a form of income, in order to give a lifeline to renters.
At the April 7 meeting, Genis expressed some of the same concerns as Dennington’s letter.
“I sympathize with people who are behind the eight ball on their rent, whether they’re commercial tenants or residential tenants. But, it’s easy to be generous at someone else’s expense. We’re taking from one to give to another,” Genis said.
“It’s even been said this is a lifeline for some tenants. Well, guess what, we’re getting that lifeline to the tenants by tearing that lifeline out of the hands of some of these small landlords.”
Dennington’s letter states that landlords and property owners will lose millions in uncollected rent every month. Tenants are still expected to pay off the missed rent which landlords can not seek until after 120 days from when Newsom lifts the emergency.
“Even if you own one property the mortgage companies at this point are highly likely to also be extending mortgage payments,” said Councilwoman Andrea Marr at a special council meeting on March 24th.
Dennington adds in his letter that property owners will seek to recover those losses from the city itself.
“Property Owners will have no choice but to pursue any and all available legal relief against the State of California and City to recover all losses attributable to the government interference with their private contractual relationships,” Dennington wrote.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC news intern. Contact him @firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam