SAN DIEGO — The San Diego City Council voted 5-4 on Tuesday to extend the rent repayment period for commercial and residential renters to Dec. 30, giving renters who have lost income due to the COVID-19 pandemic a few extra months to repay back rent. Because the proposal did not receive six votes in favor, it will need a second council approval at a future meeting, according to the council's communications Twitter account.
Council President Georgette Gomez's initial motion Tuesday would have extended the repayment period for the eviction moratorium to March 31, 2021. Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell amended the motion to the December date as a compromise.
On March 25, the council voted unanimously to begin an emergency eviction moratorium for renters. The moratorium requires renters to demonstrate through documentation that the pandemic has caused "substantial loss of income," according to city staff. Renters are also required to follow rules in leases, but landlords cannot evict a tenant for nonpayment due to COVID-19.
The moratorium expires Sept. 30. If tenants are in good standing with landlords, they can work out a repayment plan for back rent through Dec. 30, but otherwise things could get dicey for tenants.
“I am grateful that a majority of my colleagues agrees that we need to give tenants harmed financially by COVID-19 more time to pay their rent,” said Gomez. “We are deep into an economically devastating health crisis. Residents are out of work. Small businesses are closed or suffering from lack of customers. This extension will give them added peace of mind. Now the federal government must step forward and provide more financial assistance to benefit renters, small businesses, and landlords.”
Gomez represents District 9, which encompasses Southcrest, City Heights, Rolando and the College area. It has also been one of the most impacted areas during the pandemic.
According to a member of Gomez' staff -- which gave the presentation on the topic -- the city had started 15,659 rental relief applications using federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funds. Disbursements from that pool of relief money are scheduled to be handed out in late August or early September. Those funds will go directly to landlords, however, and not renters.
Council President Pro Tem Barbara Bry voted no on the motion Tuesday, not because she didn't agree that people needed help paying rent, but because the arbitrary nature of the rental relief program could leave the city open for lawsuits, she said. She added that not enough renters know the impact of not paying rent.
"It's a cruel hoax," she said. Bry said that by not paying rent on time, tenants could be destroying their credit and leaving themselves with mountains of debt and no place to turn once the moratorium ends.
"What we did today was not helpful at all," Bry told News 8.
She added that while San Diegans need help to pay their rent, she pointed out under current state judicial action, no tenants can be evicted until 90 days after the state of emergency in California is lifted.
"But this is an unfunded moratorium," she added. "This does not help tenants who need rent relief."
She also said that the council should focus on demanding tenant relief at the state and federal levels, while also stressing the unintended consequences of not paying rent on time.
"If you don't pay it, you will eventually get evicted," she said. "Your credit rating will be ruined."
In a statement Bry released Tuesday ahead of the vote, she also issued a call for funding for renters. In part she wrote:
"What renters need is funding. Funding that only the federal or state government can provide. I urge my colleagues to join me challenging the state Legislature to support a funded eviction moratorium.
The Legislature has both the power and financial capacity to enact a funded eviction moratorium. The Judicial Council acted specifically to give the Legislature time to act. The Legislature is back in session. They should act immediately to impose a funded statewide Moratorium.
It’s past time for the state Legislature to step forward, provide meaningful rent relief so renters can exit the moratorium without their finances being destroyed, and avoid foreclosures for hundreds of landlords.
I would like to amend the motion that this ordinance be conditioned on identifying funding for all renters."
In a public comment period, several dozen San Diegans called in, many urging the council to extend the moratorium -- which was not the motion in front of the council -- and many to forgive rent and mortgages outright. About an equal number of landlords called in to urge the council to allow for evictions again, as many said they were paying two mortgages and not receiving income.
"People are still not working," said renter Barbara Pinto, who is also a member of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. "Please remember that we are the victims of this pandemic, we are not the cause of it. How can people pay rent when they have no jobs?"
"This is not going to be able to help me pay my mortgage," said property owner Catherine Smart, who also called into Tuesday's council meeting.
The repayment plan extension to December will pass a critical few months, including local, state and national elections. On Nov. 3, San Diego voters will select a new mayor and five new members of its city council -- something that could cause significant shakeup in how the city is run.
"I think in three more months we will be able to tell better what the future holds," Campbell said.
Councilmembers Chris Cate and Scott Sherman were opposed to the extension on legal grounds, as the gap between when the moratorium was passed to the date proposed in Tuesday's initial motion would have been more than a year. They claimed this could cause trouble for landlords trying to evict delinquent tenants or to collect back rent.
Because the repayment extension passed with just five votes, it is susceptible to a possible veto by Mayor Kevin Faulconer. A six-councilmember vote would have made it ironclad.