The San Diego City Council voted 5-4 Tuesday to extend the rent repayment period for commercial and residential renters to Dec. 30, giving renters who have lost income due to the COVID-19 pandemic a few extra months to repay back rent.
Because the repayment extension passed with just five votes, it is susceptible to a possible veto by Mayor Kevin Faulconer. A six-councilmember vote would have made it ironclad.
Council President Georgette Gomez’s initial motion Tuesday would have extended the repayment period for the eviction moratorium to March 31, 2021. Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell amended the motion to the December date as a compromise.
On March 25, the council voted unanimously to begin an emergency eviction moratorium for renters. The moratorium requires renters to demonstrate through documentation that the pandemic has caused “substantial loss of income,” according to city staff. Renters are also required to follow rules in leases, but landlords cannot evict a tenant for nonpayment due to COVID-19.
The moratorium expires Sept. 30. If tenants are in good standing with landlords, they can work out a repayment plan for back rent through Dec. 30, but otherwise things could get dicey for tenants.
“We are all in it together,” Gomez said before discussion of the motion. “The economy is not fully restored. This is not an ideal policy, but it’s a necessity for what we are dealing with.”
Gomez represents District 9, which encompasses Southcrest, City Heights, Rolando and the College area. It has also been one of the most impacted areas during the pandemic.
According to a member of Gomez’ staff — which gave the presentation on the topic — the city had started 15,659 rental relief applications using federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funds. Disbursements from that pool of relief money are scheduled to be handed out in late August or early September. Those funds will go directly to landlords, however, and not renters.
Council President Pro Tem Barbara Bry voted no on the motion Tuesday, not because she didn’t agree that people needed help paying rent, but because the arbitrary nature of the rental relief program could leave the city open for lawsuits, she said.
She added that not enough renters know the impact of not paying rent.
“It’s a cruel hoax,” she said. Bry said that by not paying rent on time, tenants could be destroying their credit and leaving themselves with mountains of debt and no place to turn once the moratorium ends.
In a public comment period, several dozen San Diegans called in, many urging the council to extend the moratorium — which was not the motion in front of council — and many to forgive rent and mortgages outright. About an equal number of landlords called in to urge the council to allow for evictions again, as many said they were paying two mortgages and not receiving income.
The repayment plan extension to December will pass a critical few months, including local, state and national elections. On Nov. 3, San Diego voters will select a new mayor and five new members of its City Council — something that could cause significant shakeup in how the city is run.
“I think in three more months we will be able to tell better what the future holds,” Campbell said.
Councilmembers Chris Cate and Scott Sherman were opposed to the extension on legal grounds, as the gap between when the moratorium was passed to the date proposed in Tuesday’s initial motion would have been more than a year. They claimed this could cause trouble for landlords trying to evict delinquent tenants or to collect back rent.
— City News Service