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Can’t pay rent because of coronavirus? Here’s a guide to your housing rights in SLO County

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Can’t pay rent because of coronavirus? Here’s a guide to your housing rights in SLO County

Picture of Lindsey Holden
The Tribune
Thursday, April 30, 2020

The coronavirus has hit San Luis Obispo County renters hard.

Thousands of local residents are out of work due to stay-at-home orders designed to curb the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus — and that means many tenants are likely short on rent money.

But that doesn’t mean landlords can kick renters out of their homes.

County and state officials in March approved temporary orders prohibiting landlords from evicting tenants until May 31 if they can’t pay their rent after losing work or if property owners wants to renovate their living spaces.

So what should you do if you can’t pay rent or are being forced out of your apartment?

The Tribune contacted the San Luis Obispo Legal Assistance Foundation and California Rural Legal Assistance to answer to common questions about coronavirus rental housing rules.

For legal advice in English and Spanish, call California Rural Legal Assistance at 805-544-7994 or the San Luis Obispo Legal Assistance Foundation at 805-543-5140.

For more information, check out the San Luis Obispo Legal Assistance Foundation’s renter rights guide at SLOLAF.org.

What has your landlord told you about paying rent during the coronavirus outbreak? Are you being threatened with eviction? Tell us about your experiences here.

WHAT IF I CAN’T PAY RENT BECAUSE I LOST WORK DUE TO THE CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK?

You should write a letter, email or text to your landlord explaining your situation within 30 days of when the rent was due and keep a copy for yourself. It is very important to keep records of your communication with your landlord.

You should also keep letters from your employer saying you’ve been laid off and pay stubs showing you’ve lost wages as proof of your situation.

Here is a sample landlord letter (tinyurl.com/yb6u539w) from the San Luis Obispo Legal Assistance Foundation and a sample letter your employer can fill out on your behalf (tinyurl.com/y8ryas5h).

Renters cannot be evicted from their apartments for the following coronavirus-related reasons:

  • Losing work due to the virus outbreak
  • Complying with a Public Health recommendation to stay home, self-quarantine or avoid contact with groups of people
  • Falling ill with COVID-19 or caring for a sick family member
  • Paying large medical bills related to coronavirus
  • Taking on child-care responsibilities due to coronavirus school closures

WILL I EVENTUALLY HAVE TO PAY THE RENT I MISSED?

Yes. If your landlord doesn’t forgive your rent, you need to pay it within six months after the emergency order is lifted.

If you can’t pay your back rent after things return to normal, your landlord can’t evict you. They can, however, take you to court to get their money.

If you can pay even a portion of your rent during this time, you should. It will help you avoid problems later.

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF MY LANDLORD TRIES TO KICK ME OUT OF MY HOME, EVEN IF IT’S NOT BECAUSE I CAN’T PAY RENT?

You should contact the San Luis Obispo Legal Assistance Foundation or California Rural Legal Assistance and ask for help.

Eviction is a legal process — you have a right to a court hearing if your landlord asks you to leave your living space. This applies even if your landlord wants to renovate your home or move in.

The eviction court process won’t start until 90 days after Gov. Gavin Newsom lifts the state emergency order. So, effectively, landlords can’t even take tenants to court to remove them from their homes for three months after the coronavirus emergency ends.

WHAT IF I’M RENTING A ROOM OR PART OF A HOUSE OR APARTMENT FROM ANOTHER TENANT? DO I HAVE THE SAME RIGHTS?

Yes. All tenants are covered under the emergency coronavirus protections, including those renting space from other tenants, also known as subtenants.

WHAT IF I NEVER SIGNED A LEASE, OR I SIGNED A LEASE WITH A DIFFERENT LANDLORD?

You’re still protected under the emergency order. Renters still have rights even if they never signed a lease.

WHAT IF I’M UNDOCUMENTED AND SPEAK ONLY SPANISH? WHO CAN HELP ME?

You’re still protected from eviction. The emergency rental rules apply to everyone, whether you’re a citizen or not.

Spanish speakers can call the San Luis Obispo Legal Assistance Foundation or California Rural Legal Assistance. Both organizations have bilingual staff members.

MY LANDLORD HAS LOCKED ME OUT OF MY APARTMENT OR THREATENED TO LOCK ME OUT. WHAT SHOULD I DO NOW?

You should contact your local police department or the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office. Your landlord is not legally able to lock you out of your apartment without a court order.

It’s currently illegal to remove tenants from their homes, and landlords can face criminal misdemeanor charges if they knowingly violate the emergency rental protections.

WHAT IF I’M A LANDLORD OR HOMEOWNER AND CAN’T PAY MY MORTGAGE FOR CORONAVIRUS-RELATED REASONS?

You should contact your bank or mortgage servicer and let them know about your situation as soon as possible. California is working with a group of financial institutions to provide mortgage grace periods and fee and foreclosure relief.

For more information, visit covid19.ca.gov/get-financial-help or covid19.ca.gov/obtener-ayuda-financiera.

RESOURCES FOR RENTERS

Legal help for tenants (both groups have Spanish-speaking staff)

Food resources

Financial help

SLO County services and assistance programs

[This article was originally published by The Tribune.]