By Miriam Raftery
Photo, left: Supervisor Joel Anderson organized a press conference opposing the measure
May 15, 2021 (San Diego’s East County) – An association representing landlords has filed a lawsuit against San Diego County and County Supervisors, one week after the Supervisors voted 3-2 to enact a temporary ban on most evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
East County Supervisors Joel Anderson and Jim Desmond opposed the measure, with Anderson joining several East County city officials in a press conference speaking out on behalf of rental owners. Supervisors Nathan Fletcher, Nora Vargas and Terra Lawson-Remer voted in favor of the ordinance, which drew nearly five hours of impassioned testimony on both sides.
What the measure does
The ordinance enacted prevents landlords from evicting tenants, in most cases, until 60 days after the state lifts all COVID-19 stay-home orders. Governor Gavin Newsom has said he anticipates that will occur on June 15, so the eviction moratorium would expire on August 15.
Landlords who agree to forgive 20 percent of back rent owed to them and who agree not to pursue eviction will receive 80 percent of the rent owed, through the state’s rent relief program.
Tenants could still be evicted if they pose an “imminent health or safety threat” to other tenants or occupants of the property.
Supervisor Nora Vargas, who authored the measure, said it will help prevent families from becoming homeless. Many have faced loss of jobs or business income, and in some cases, impaired health or loss of family members due to COVID-19.
One renter testified that she and her husband received an eviction notice after contracting COVID-19, facing the nightmare of seeking new housing while ill and quarantining.
Another told Supervisors, “The laws we have right now are not enough. People are still being kicked out because landlords are still taking advantage of the loopholes.” The law closed two of those loopholes, which had allowed evictions if a landlord wanted to rehab a property or move into it.
After the vote, Lawson-Remer tweeted, “Today was a huge victory for our county’s most vulnerable citizens & I thank my colleagues @SupFletcher and @SupLawsonRemer for standing in solidarity with the thousands of residents facing eviction through one of the hardest economic crises of our lifetime.”
Supervisor Anderson called the moratorium “unfair, but also completely unnecessary,” in a press conference before the May 4 hearing, noting that the County still has nearly $80 million in rent relief funds that have not yet been spent.
“Our local cities were being given no notice on this restrictive measure, lacking the transparency we should have at local government. This measure harms ‘Mom and ‘Pop’ landlords who are dependent upon rent revenue to pay their mortgages and retirement, forcing some into very uncomfortable, even hostile situations with uncooperative tenants,” Anderson added.
Anderson's office was contacted for help by Dorothy McCorkel, 91, who wants to move into a house she’s paid taxes on for 20 years and has been renting out. The home is nearer to a hospital than her present residence.
“It’s unfair to seniors,” McCorkel said at the press conference. “The house is in a senior community, which is why I bought it. Now it’s my turn to live there.”
Elected officials joining Anderson included El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells and Councilman Steve Goble. Wells called the action a “power grab.”
Ayesha Anand told a moving story of a tenant living in her home who she said became physically and verbally aggressive towards her and her dog, also disregarding her personal property. “County Supervisors supporting this ordinance for forcing people like me into a situation where they must continue living in their own home with someone who puts their safety at risk daily,” she said.
A lawsuit filed by the Southern California Rental Housing Association seeks an injunction to halt enforcement of the new ordinance. The suit contends that the measure would stop small landlords from evicting tenants using units for illegal purposes, threatening or harassing landlords, or simply not paying rent.
Although the ordinance does allow evictions for an imminent health or safety threat, the lawsuit claims litigation risks make it unlikely landlords would pursue evictions in such cases. The landlords’ group calls this protection “toothless.”
The landlords’ lawsuit asserts, “The ordinance threatens the lives and livelihoods of thousands of property owners in the county who provide tenants with housing.”
Miriam Raftery, editor and founder of East County Magazine, has over 35 years of journalism experience. She has won more than 350 journalism awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, San Diego Press Club, and the American Society of Journalists & Authors. Her honors include the Sol Price Award for responsible journalism and three James Julian awards for public interest reporting from SPJ’s San Diego chapter. She has received top honors for investigative journalism, multicultural reporting, coverage of immigrant and refugee issues, politics, breaking news and more. Thousands of her articles have appeared in national and regional publications.
East County Magazine gratefully acknowledges the Facebook Journalism Project for its COVID-19 Relief Fund grant to support our local news reporting including impacts on vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more: #FacebookJournalismProject and https://www.facebook.com/fbjournalismproject/.