A San Diego tenants rights group Wednesday urged its members not to pay rent for the duration of the health crisis, leading to rebuttals from landlord and property management groups.
As people find themselves financially strapped as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, calls for rent strikes across the world have grown. Via Facebook, the tenants union and San Diego Tenants United held a “Rent Strike Virtual Town Hall” Wednesday with about a dozen activists attending.
“The damage is very real and many of our members have already suffered income/job loss due to the government `stay at home’ order and the widespread infection of the virus,” a statement issued by the San Diego Tenants Union reads. “As the working class, we recognize this as another opportunity that the wealthy use to exploit us.
“It is important to stand in solidarity with each other and know what’s coming. Save your money, stock supplies, communicate with your family and friends. Make emergency contingency plans and try to have cash readily available. Be compassionate and thoughtful. Help your neighbors and organize.”
The grassroots group said it had around 100 people taking part in the rent strike, and had issued a letter to members to send to landlords.
“If we can, we will make a good faith partial rent payment accompanying this letter,” the letter reads. “So please understand and be compassionate if we cannot afford to pay rent and put food on the table. If we cannot pay rent on April 1, 2020, it is very unlikely that we will be able to pay rent for the duration of the crisis.”
The Southern California Rental Housing Association, a landlord and property management group, issued a statement noting local and state protections put into place to help tenants, and urged them to continue timely payments.
“We are greatly concerned about the discussions taking place of a potential rent strike, which would be not only illegal, but devastating to small, independent operators in the rental housing industry and would have a ripple effect of hurting the people who work in rental property-related jobs,” said SCRHA Executive Director Alan Pentico. “Non-payment of rent could unfairly hurt the people who work in our rental housing industry and would damage our housing supply, both now and in the future.”
The SCRHA said the consequences of a rent strike would be “severe,” impacting landlords’ ability to pay essential employees: managers, custodians, maintenance technicians, painters, landscapers, pool service personnel, trash disposal personnel and others.
“Everyone loses in a rent strike — not just the landlord,” said SCRHA President Kendra Bork. “The unintended consequences of a rent strike would be to take away jobs and income from the workers who are on the front lines of this crisis.”
The San Diego City Council voted on March 25 to place a moratorium on evictions in the city through May 31. According to the emergency ordinance, landlords cannot evict someone for not paying rent due on or after March 12. However, it will not relieve a tenant of the requirement to pay rent or restrict a landlord from recovering rent at a future time.
A website designed to assist tenants and landlords amid the city’s recently enacted eviction moratorium launched this week.
The site, created by the San Diego Housing Commission, provides information regarding the requirements for tenants to qualify for rent relief, which includes supplying landlords with proof of a substantial loss of income or proof tenants have incurred medical bills related to COVID-19.
Tenants have six months from March 25, the day the moratorium ordinance was enacted by the council, to make any unpaid rent payments.
“Step one was putting the moratorium in place,” City Council President Georgette Gomez said. “Step two is making sure residents and small businesses know what they need to do to be protected by it.”
The county of San Diego, Chula Vista and San Marcos enacted similar ordinances to help tenants.
On Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order halting evictions statewide for renters impacted by the pandemic.
Assemblyman Todd Gloria, D-San Diego, has called for relief for rental property owners.
“With these protections for renters now in place, I believe it is imperative we provide similar protections for landlords. No one is immune from the impacts of COVID-19, and no one should face eviction, foreclosure, or economic ruin because of this crisis,” he said. “We are all in this together, and together, we must make sure all of us can return to normalcy once we get through this.”
Updated at 7:12 p.m. April 1, 2020
— City News Service contributed to this report.