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Washing Their Hands of Responsibility, CA Judicial Council Votes to End COVID Eviction Moratorium

Lots more of this on the way? Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog

The California Judicial Council, which oversees courts in the state, decided today that it was time to end its emergency moratorium that had temporarily halted legal eviction proceedings during the state's emergency stay-at-home orders.

“The judicial branch cannot usurp the responsibility of the other two branches on a long-term basis to deal with the myriad impacts of the pandemic,” wrote Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye in a statement. “The duty of the judicial branch is to resolve disputes under the law and not to legislate. I urge our sister branches to act expeditiously to resolve this looming crisis.”

The pandemic that caused the need for people to shelter at home has not gone away. Researchers and advocates have been warning that a coming wave of evictions could push hundreds of thousands of California residents out of their homes and into the streets. It's a nightmare scenario, but apparently not the Judicial Council's problem.

The moratorium, which simply prevented courts from processing "unlawful detainer" eviction orders, had been extended in June to give legislators more time to come up with solutions. Currently, this work is mostly being done at the local level, which means inconsistent tenant protections vary by city and county.

The state legislature has until August 31 to pass bills, and there are some in play that propose new tenant protection rules. One is David Chiu's A.B. 1436, which would make it somewhat easier for a tenant to claim hardship and get some relief. S.B. 1410, by Senators Anna Caballero (D-Salinas) and Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), would prevent an eviction for non-payment of back rent during the pandemic unless the landlord can prove they tried, and failed, to come to an agreement with the tenant over the paying of rent over time.

But even these bills are facing loud blowback from landlords, who want their own protections from tenants who can't pay. Maybe they are expecting that there are plenty of tenants clamoring to take over hundreds of thousands of suddenly empty apartments, in the midst of a pandemic, with many people unemployed?

The harsh reality is that "unlawful detainer" evictions could happen quickly. Unless a tenant understands and responds to all of the requirements for appeal immediately, they can be forcibly removed from their home at the end of those three days.

And the people most at risk of eviction are the same vulnerable populations that pay a high portion of what income they have on rent - some as high as ninety percent - and few resources to fall back on if they lose their jobs or their housing. That is: mostly poor and low-income Black and brown people.

It's not getting easier to pay rent. The timing of this Judicial Council action is not kind.

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