Ryan McDonald

Hermosa Beach okays eviction moratorium, rejects rent abatement

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Hermosa Beach City Hall. Photo by Ryan McDonald

by Ryan McDonald

Commercial and residential tenants in the city of Hermosa Beach who have been impacted by the novel coronavirus will not face eviction for being unable to pay rent during the state of emergency caused by the pandemic, but will have to pay back any rent they miss.

Hermosa’s City Council unanimously approved an urgency ordinance adopting the eviction moratorium at its Tuesday night meeting, but rejected a rent abatement amendment proposed by Mayor pro tem Justin Massey, which would have provided partial, temporary relief to tenants who have lost income or earnings as a result of measures taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The council fixed the date for repaying the money owed at six months after the end of the state of emergency that Mayor Mary Campbell declared earlier this month.

The eviction moratorium also prevents banks from foreclosing on Hermosa property owners during the emergency. When the emergency ends is up to the council. Tenants wishing to be protected by the moratorium should notify their landlord, by postal mail or email, as soon as possible.

The meeting coincided with the confirmation of the first case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in Hermosa Beach. Unlike surrounding cities Hermosa had yet to report a case, which City Manager Suja Lowenthal worried may have contributed to a cavalier attitude about the virus, including crowding on The Strand over the weekend.

“We learned today that we have a member of our community who has tested positive for COVID-19,” Lowenthal said. “I sensed from speaking to folks and observing some of our behavior that perhaps there was a sense that we were immune from this. We’re not. All of this guidance, these admonitions from city, state and federal officials are really to protect us, and for us to protect one another.”

In an attempt to slow the transmission of the virus, Los Angeles County and Hermosa have ordered many businesses to close, leading to concerns that both the businesses and the people they employ could have a hard time making rent. That council differed, however, on the lengths the city should go to address it.

Housing and affordability issues are convulsing state politics. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a residential rent control bill last fall, which limited the amount landlords could raise rent each year. Many cities, including Hermosa, passed temporary eviction moratoriums after that law went into effect to stop landlords from turning out longtime tenants.

Under the law approved Tuesday night, if Hermosa’s state of emergency were to endure for three months, a tenant who devotes one-third of his or her income to rent and was out of work during the emergency, then immediately returned to his or her previous income, would have to devote at least 50 percent of pay to rent in order to stay current and make up missed payments within the required six months. A majority of tenants in California spend a third or more of their income on rent.

Massey ultimately joined his colleagues in supporting the eviction moratorium, but could not convince any of the other four council members to consider an amendment that would have reduced the rent a tenant owed, for the duration of the emergency, in proportion to tenant’s loss of income or earnings from coronavirus-related closures or work slowdown. The loss would have needed to be documented.

“As we sit here, last paychecks are in the mail for probably thousands of our residents. By the end of this month, we are going to have lots of residential and commercial tenants in real trouble. Under the circumstances, it is sensible to provide temporary and limited rent abatement,” Massey said.

The other four councilmembers sat silently when Massey offered his amendment, allowing it to die for want of a second but not debating the points Massey raised.

Landlords, by contrast, pilloried the idea. 

“Were not all Jeff Bezos,” said landlord Dino Capaldi. “Some of us rely on rent to make mortgage payments. If I can’t make my payment, I’m in default.”

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