Los Angeles

As Tenants Fail to Pay Rent During Pandemic, Councilman Advocates for Rent Forgiveness

Tenants have one simple obligation.

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Nearly 10% of tenants nationwide couldn’t pay their April rent, according to some studies, and experts believe that number will only rise in May.

To make matters worse, Los Angeles officials are saying some landlords are using underhanded techniques to force renters into repayment plans or show proof of unemployment.

One Sylmar resident said she recently received a contract from her landlord, a “promise to pay rent.”

It’s one of several tactics LA Councilmember David Ryu says landlords use to manipulate tenants. He says he’s cracked down on about 50 landlords. 

Large crowds gathered to protest California Gov. Gavin Newsom's decision to close beaches in Orange County, Calif., after large crowds were seen at beaches last weekend.

“There are a few bad seeds out there. And when I say bad seeds, I mean shameless,” Ryu said. 

Here are some questions LA renters have asked NBC4's I-Team about repayment responsibilities and protections.

Can a landlord force you to sign a repayment plan, or prove you're unemployed or don't have rent money?

No. Ryu emphasizes that renters have one simple obligation.

“The only thing required by law if you’re affected by the COVID-19 pandemic is that you have to tell your landlord within seven days of your rent being due, or after it's due, that you can’t pay rent,” he said. 

What happens after the statewide eviction moratorium for people affected by the pandemic ends? Will I have to pay back the rent I missed?

Many tenants say a rent forbearance, or delaying when rent is due, isn’t good enough. They want rent forgiveness. 

EDD has been overwhelmed with applications. Randy Mac reports April 30, 2020.

Ryu says the city doesn’t have the power to make that call, though the federal government does. He’s advocating for rent forgiveness in an upcoming bailout package. 

“Most Angelenos and American families will not be able to get themselves out of that debt," he said. "That’s where we need rent and mortgage forgiveness. So we can actually pull out these families from having this debt that’s inescapable."

Can landlords raise my rent?

The answer is complicated, from a legal standpoint.

LA froze rents for tenants who live in buildings built before 1978. But there’s a legal tussle over whether it can do the same for newer buildings.  

“This shouldn't even be a political or legal argument. This should be a common-sense argument. People are struggling,” Ryu said. “The government told people to stay at home. Don't go to work. Close down your business. The least we can do is make sure your rent doesn’t go up.”

For LA tenants struggling with rent payments due to the pandemic, there are some resources.

The nonprofit Coalition for Economic Survival offers some advice for renters experiencing economic hardship, as does the Neighborhood Legal Services of LA County. The LA Housing and Community Investment Department also has resources for renters.

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