The Elk Grove City Council on March 18 voted, 4-1, against a proposed, temporary ban on residential and commercial evictions in the city, related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) situation.
That decision occurred during a special, teleconferenced meeting in which each member of the council called in to the meeting.
Due to the current practice of social distancing to avoid the spread of this virus, the meeting was open to only 10 members of the public and the media, and chairs were spaced 6 feet apart in the council chamber.
The proposed temporary ban on coronavirus-related evictions was designed to protect renters affected by the coronavirus by inhibiting the ability of a landlord from evicting them for a nonpayment of rent. But the ordinance would not have halted evictions related to other reasons such as the nonpayment of rents unrelated to COVID-19 or for operating an illegal business on the premises.
The moratorium would not have eliminated the tenants’ need to pay for their rent during that period. They would still be legally liable to pay for their past due payments long-term.
Vice Mayor Steve Detrick, who voted against the proposal, mentioned that rental agreements are private contracts. He suggested that tenants experiencing an inability to pay rent due to the coronavirus situation seek solutions with their landlords or for landlords to offer a remedy to their tenants.
He concluded that he does not feel that the city government should intervene on those private contracts.
“I think (such action would create) an undue burden to the landlord,” he said.
Had the temporary moratorium been approved, it also would have prevented the city from discontinuing service or charging late fees for solid waste or drainage services in Elk Grove, due to financial issues resulting from COVID-19.
Elk Grove City Manager Jason Behrmann said that the number one topic of concern that the city received via email and phone within the past week came from local businesses that are worried about their ability to survive the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’ve had a number (of business owners) that have responded or sent questions or concerns that they were either facing an eviction or concerned that they would face eviction and their ability to continue (operating their businesses),” he said.
The council ultimately voted against the proposed temporary ban on coronavirus-related evictions, as they felt that the moratorium could create a financial burden for landlords.
Council Member Pat Hume noted that tenants already have an advantage over landlords when it comes to evictions, noting that “most of the consideration goes toward the tenant.”
“As the law exists today, an eviction, if the tenant is disagreeable, can be a protracted six-month process with very little recourse for the landlord, and now we’re adding an additional two months for the term of this moratorium, plus the 120 days for repayment of rent,” he said.
“I’m just wondering how this doesn’t turn into a slippery slope where a tenant who maybe doesn’t have the best of intentions can skirt rent for the better part of the remainder of the year.”
City Attorney Jonathan Hobbs confirmed that there is the possibility that the tentative moratorium would create an opportunity for a renter to take advantage of such an ordinance.
“There’s no way to absolutely guarantee against that (possibility),” he said. “I think your concerns are sound, Council Member Hume. But to your point about the time frame, this would delay the eviction process, even for a typical eviction. And I think your estimates of the time frame for six months or so are not inaccurate.”
Responding to Hobbs, Hume stressed that although he is compassionate, he maintained his concern with the proposal.
“What we’re doing is we’re codifying via city ordinance the sliding scale of to whom it is acceptable to leave holding the financial bag to cover this loss of transactional income,” he said. “At some point somebody is not going to get paid potentially and that might cause them a hardship.”
Detrick agreed with Hume.
“I don’t think we should do anything other than what is already the state law,” he said. “The state law is very liberal for the tenants as it is, and to add 100% of the burden back onto the landlords, I think is unreasonable.”
Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly, who was the only council member who voted for the temporary moratorium on evictions, admitted that he was hesitant in making a decision on the matter due to the burden that it could potentially place on landlords.
The mayor inquired whether there are any resources that the city could pursue to alleviate some of the burdens on the landlords.
Darrell Doan, the city’s economic director, mentioned that he was not aware of any resources solely designated to assist landlords.
“There are programs coming fast and furious at the federal, state and regional and local levels,” he said. “Different cities are doing different things. There are some things that are being worked on and/or that have already been announced that I think do benefit landlords, but they also benefit all businesses broadly.”
After hearing comments from some of the other members of the council, Council Member Darren Suen noted that the proposal was possibly not the “right tool” to remedy the situation.
“Faced with this crisis, everyone’s trying to be helpful and responsive to our landlords and the tenants, the businesses,” he said. “Maybe this just isn’t the right tool or instrument right now.
“I think we all want to make sure our businesses and landlords feel safe during this time. And it sounds like there’s a consensus about maybe let’s do a wait-and-see approach, and maybe figure it out what could be really most useful to the businesses.”
Council Member Stephanie Nguyen mentioned that with the exception of one email message from a concerned tenant who is seeking assistance related to the pandemic, she only received feedback from landlords on this issue.
Nguyen added that she supported Hume’s comments regarding landlords.
“Council Member Hume is correct (in) that we’re taking the burden off of one and putting it on the other, whereas I believe there may be quite a few assistance (programs) available for those small businesses to be able to cope through this and pay for their rent,” she said.