Are Governments Protecting Renters During the Pandemic?
At its May 26 meeting, the council voted 5-2—with Mayor Rebecca Garcia and Councilmember Francisco Estrada dissenting—not to extend the moratorium past its May 31 expiration date, and instead defer to tenant protections put in place by California’s Judicial Council.
Sandra Silva, the directing attorney of California Rural Legal Assistance’s Watsonville office, says local filings began to pile up in the days after the city’s ban expired, and will come due when the state’s Judicial Council’s protections are lifted. None of Silva’s clients were served notices during the moratorium, she says.
“Even though they can’t go forward [with the eviction] right now and get into court, having an unlawful detainer filed against you and being served with court papers is extremely stressful during this time,” Silva says.
Silva says the rise in eviction notices resulted directly from the moratorium’s expiration and adds that some landlords have brazenly tried to evict renters that were hard-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and do not understand their rights.
“Landlords are saying things like, ‘You need to be out tomorrow,’ or ‘You need to be out at the end of the month.’ None of that is legal in the best-case scenario, let alone in the moratorium …. Some of our clients, sadly, say, ‘OK, fine, I’ll just go’ when they don’t have to, and there is nowhere to go,” Silva says.
“By continuing to expect people to pay rent when they cannot afford it, we’ve created a baffling system that breeds antagonism, and we’ve created a problem where this doesn’t make it clear how the tenant pays the rent back,” says Brahinsky, an organizer with the Santa Cruz Organizing Circle, which is getting ready to launch an ice cream tricycle that will give away free ice cream, along with information on how to get help during the pandemic.
The Watsonville Law Center (WLC) was one such member. Adriana Melgoza, chief programs officer for the nonprofit legal assistance organization, says the expiration of the moratorium was premature and that the true effects of the pandemic—and the economic stagnation that came with it—are not yet known.