County Administration Budilding
The San Diego City and County Administration Building is shown on January 12, 2021.

An association of rental owners sued San Diego County and its Board of Supervisors Thursday over an ordinance that temporarily restricts county landlords from evicting residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Southern California Rental Housing Association seeks an injunction preventing the county from implementing or enforcing the ordinance, which the supervisors passed May 4 on a 3-2 vote.

The ordinance, which takes effect early next month, prevents landlords from evicting tenants unless they are an “imminent health or safety threat” to other tenants or occupants of the same property.

In its suit, filed in San Diego federal court, the association alleges the ordinance only allows landlords to evict tenants under extremely limited and vague circumstances, Those, according to the suit, are unlikely to be used because of litigation risks, making that exception to the ordinance “toothless.”

The group also alleges that many of the owners affected by the ordinance are small “mom and pop” landlords who will not be allowed to evict nonpaying tenants, those who threaten or harass their landlords, or those using their units for illegal purposes.

“The ordinance threatens the lives and livelihoods of thousands of property owners in the county who provide tenants with housing,” the complaint alleges.

The moratorium imposed by the ordinance is effective until 60 days after all COVID-19 stay-at-home orders are lifted. Gov. Gavin Newsom indicated that will happen June 15.

Supervisors approved the ordinance following a four-hour hearing that included hundreds of telephoned comments from members of the public. Supervisors Joel Anderson and Jim Desmond voted no.

Supervisor Nora Vargas, who introduced the ordinance, stressed that it 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.”