Kern County says it will not adopt stricter eviction moratorium

April 10, 2020 /

The California Judicial Council announced earlier this week it will give tenants 90 days after the state of emergency is lifted to refrain from acting on legal demands to pay back rent; however, after the 90-day window, eviction proceedings will begin. This decision comes two weeks after Governor Gavin Newsom announced a state-wide eviction moratorium. 

Veronica Garibay, the co-executive director of Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, says Newsom’s order is hardly a moratorium because it doesn’t put a stop to all evictions. Instead, it delays evictions. However, Newsom’s order allows local governments to pass stricter eviction bans, and that’s what Garibay is hoping for.

“It was disappointing the Board (of Supervisors) did not take any direct or immediate actions needed to protect families,” Garibay said. “It’s unfortunate they are relying on the Governor’s actions.” 

Newsom announced at the end of March a two-month delay on evictions for those who are unable to pay rent as a result of the virus. Newsom’s executive order covers people who have lost work and those who need to care for their children and loved ones as a result of COVID-19.

Newsom’s moratorium requires tenants who cannot pay rent due to COVID-19 to declare in writing within seven days of nonpayment they can not pay all or part of their rent. Renters will eventually have to pay back the rent. If they don’t, landlords can evict renters.

Garibay said the governor’s moratorium falls short because it not only delays evictions, but it does not bar evictions; it does not provide tenants with a defense to evictions; tenants are only eligible for the extension if they comply with certain requirements, such as providing documents of the COVID-19 related loss of income; it does not require landlords to work with tenants; and it allows landlords to file eviction now. 

Christian Romo, a district representative for Supervisor and Chairwoman Letecia Perez, said the board does not plan to adopt a stricter moratorium any time soon. It will continue to follow the governor’s order, he said, and hopes the governor will issue more orders that will protect Californian’s who can not pay their rent.

“We want the Governor to reassess at the end of the month to see if he wants to extend the deadline one more month,” he said. “We hope the governor issues an order on how people can pay back rent and hope he issues some kind of stimulus package.” 

Garibay would like to see these orders come out as well; however, she said she thinks local leaders should take action, instead of waiting for the Governor to make such a decision.

“We need to be more proactive in protecting families,” she said. “We are asking the local government to look at dollars to establish an emergency relief fund to help people pay rent.”  

Garibay said she would like the Board of Supervisors to adopt a moratorium just like the one the City of Madera recently adopted. It allows tenants to use COVID-19 as a defense in court during eviction hearings, which will protect people from being evicted after the deadline placed by the Governor’s moratorium.  

“It’s great to see them take leadership at a local level to provide more protection to their residents,” Garibay said. 

Romo said Perez’s office receives nearly 50 calls a day from Kern County residents with eviction questions, and most come from people who live in West Bakersfield and Oildale. 

Although housing advocates feel a stricter eviction moratorium is necessary now, Romo said it will be much more powerful coming from the Governor. 

“It doesn’t help us when we think of our own ideas with no backing from the state,” Romo said. “If it comes to the point where we don’t get any help, we will pursue our own methods, but that will require a lot of negotiating with many groups that don’t typically work together.” 

At the last Board of Supervisors meeting, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability submitted a letter as a public comment that urged Supervisors to adopt a stricter moratorium.

“We would like an update on how the county plans to proceed on our request,” the letter reads. “We urge you to take immediate action.” 

Garibay said Wednesday they have not heard back from the Kern County Board of Supervisors.

On the other hand, the Bakersfield Association of Realtors, the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce, the Kern County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Kern County Taxpayers Association also submitted a letter urging the Board to stick with the Governor’s order and not adopt any additional eviction ordinances. 

“Once the moratorium is lifted, it will be very difficult to recoup the months of rent,” the letter reads. “It will result in more evictions…We urge you not to adopt a local ordinance and instead refer to the state and federal measures already in place for our county’s most vulnerable populations.” 

The Board of Supervisors has not adopted anything stricter. Perez removed the item off the agenda because the votes weren’t there to pass such a moratorium, according to Romo. 

Instead, Perez worked with leaders in the community, like the Sheriff, to receive commitments that they wouldn’t pursue evictions.

Although there is disagreement about how local leaders should handle evictions during the pandemic, there is one thing they can all agree on: many people will have a tough time paying multiple months worth of rent when the deadline comes.

Romo said, “I’m worried about how they are going to pay back that rent.” 

Elizabeth Sanchez

Elizabeth Sanchez

Elizabeth Sanchez is the program associate for South Kern Sol. She can be reached at elizabeth@southkernsol.org.