The historic San Diego County administration building. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

 A temporary moratorium on evictions in San Diego County enacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic will continue, it was announced Wednesday.

After a four-hour public hearing Tuesday night, the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 in favor of Supervisor Nora Vargas’ proposed ordinance, which prohibits residential evictions without just cause and enacts a moratorium on certain residential rent increases.

The moratorium will expire 60 days after the state lifts all COVID- related stay-at-home orders, which is set to happen June 15.

Supervisors Joel Anderson and Jim Desmond voted no.

According to the ordinance, rent will not be completely forgiven for those behind on payments. Instead, landlords can recoup 80% through a state Emergency Rental Assistance Program, but they must agree to work with tenants during that time.

The county moratorium will also close several loopholes allowed by a state ban, including one that allows landlords to evict tenants in order to rehabilitate a property.

Vargas stressed that the ordinance isn’t permanent, and said it benefits working families and vulnerable residents.

“We find ourselves on the road to recovery, but there are still many struggling,” she said. “Our region has a moratorium, but there still aren’t enough protections. (The ordinance) is buying us time to avoid larger housing problems.”

Vargas first proposed extending the moratorium during the April 6 board meeting, which also included a lengthy public hearing.

At both virtual meetings, hundreds of residents called in. Many supported Vargas’ proposal as the humane thing to do in hard economic times, while opponents said such measures were counterproductive and harmful to rental property owners.

Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer supported the moratorium, but also offered some friendly amendments she said would ensure that “mom-and-pop,” enlisted military or elderly property owners were better protected against difficult tenants.

Vargas rejected Lawson-Remer’s suggestions, and said the constituents she represents “don’t have lobbies.”

Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher said that while a lot of landlords treat tenants well, “we continue to see people evicted.”

He added that supervisors also voted unanimously Tuesday to allow commercial tenants to not pay any rent to the county until their businesses are in better shape.

“We gave them five years to pay it back, too,” Fletcher said. “Given (what) we just did earlier today, this wouldn’t seem to be a Herculean effort.”

Desmond later said the rental issue “continues to be very complex with too many disagreeing stakeholders for us to approve this and move it forward.

“We have heard about the slowness is dispersing the ERAP funds that can support tenants with payments, and I would really like to see expanded efforts to work with more tenants in need rather than enacting police powers,” Desmond added.

On Monday, Anderson stated his opposition to the ordinance at a news conference.

“This moratorium ordinance is not only unfair, but also completely unnecessary,” he said. “Our local cities have been given no notice on this restrictive measure, lacking the transparency we should have at local government.”

Anderson argued that the ordinance harms mom-and-pop landlords who are dependent upon rent revenue to pay their mortgages and retirement, forcing some into very uncomfortable, even hostile situations with uncooperative tenants.

He added that a new ordinance isn’t necessary, since San Diego County has almost $80 million in unspent rent relief funds.

Vargas later tweeted that the board’s decision “was a huge victory for county’s most vulnerable citizens, (and) I thank my colleagues @SupFletcher and @SupLawsonRemer for standing in solidarity with the thousands of residents facing eviction through one of the hardest economic crises of our lifetime.”

In March 2020, the board unanimously approved a moratorium on evictions for both residents and small businesses located in the unincorporated area in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

–City News Service

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