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Westminster business owners struggling with the pandemic will no longer be protected against eviction after Feb. 28 as the city council voted to lift their ban a month earlier than planned. 

After the city’s commercial eviction ban is lifted, business owners will have up to 12 months to pay their landlords all rent that may have accumulated since the protection’s start on Mar. 27, 2020. 

The Westminster City Council voted 4-0 on Wednesday, with Council member Tai Do abstaining, to lift the eviction protection for commercial tenants at the end of Feb. 28 rather than the end of Mar. 31. They also voted to extend the time business owners have to pay their landlords everything they owe from up to four months to up to 12 months. 

Commercial tenants can discuss with their landlords to decide a payment plan, said City Attorney Christian Bettenhausen. However if they cannot agree to terms, tenants will have a maximum of 12 months to pay their debt. 

The urgency ordinance passed Wednesday also requires commercial tenants to pay at least 1/12th of the money they owe in addition to their current rent every month. 

Bettenhausen said landlords will be able to decide whether to evict a tenant who fails to pay their current rent and their minimum monthly debt payment. 

The 11-month long eviction ban only protected commercial tenants who could show that they were struggling because of the pandemic, Bettenhausen said. 

The city has been unable to enact their own eviction protections for residential tenants since the state legislature prohibited California cities from doing so on August 31, 2020, the staff report reads.

According to the staff report, the resolution balances competing interests and recognizes factors like rental assistance programs for small businesses. 

“By so doing, commercial tenants will have been provided with eviction protections for almost an entire year,” the report reads. 

Do said he abstained from voting as he was in support of lifting the protection a month early but against regulating when tenants must pay their landlords. 

Council member Carlos Manzo said he voted in favor of the resolution because it is crucial for the city to support businesses as much as possible.

“I don’t want to see our businesses fail. It’s a tough time for everybody. Any support we can give them, I’m willing to do that,” Manzo said.

Council member Kimberly Ho, who said she happens to be a landlord herself, said that the council’s decision was a win for both tenants and landlords. 

At their Feb. 10 meeting, Ho urged the council to extend the repayment period to 22 months after the 11-month ban was lifted. She argued that was the only fair option since the city initially had a four month repayment period.

Ho said she feared that allowing landlords to decide when tenants must pay them would result in multiple vacancies, with ensuing empty storefronts fueling the perception the city is in a recession.  

At Wednesday’s meeting, Ho said she felt the 12 month grace period would be fair and commended the 1/12th minimum of tenants’ debt that they have to pay every month. 

Bettenhausen discussed a survey of other Orange County cities that offer commercial eviction protection, including Santa Ana, Fullerton, Anaheim and Buena Park. 

He said most of those cities allow repayment periods of 120 days or six months, but acknowledged that may be due to the fact they just haven’t yet debated the issue publicly. 

“I think 12 months is definitely supportable. People need time and it has gone on longer than I think was initially anticipated,” Bettenhausen said.

An earlier version of this story identified Christian Bettenhausen as Westminster’s Assistant City Attorney. He was appointed as the City Attorney on Feb. 10.

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