Laguna Beach Temporarily Bans Residential and Commercial Evictions

Downtown Laguna Beach. File Photo

The Laguna Beach City Council unanimously approved a temporary moratorium on commercial and residential evictions Tuesday, offering a lifeline to community members impacted by the coronavirus.

Mayor Bob Whalen said last week that he was leaning toward sending a letter to landlords asking, but not mandating, deferring rent through the end of May.

To qualify for rent deferral, tenants must write to their landlord within 30 days of rent being due about the substantial financial impacts they’re experiencing because of COVID-19.  They must also provide documentation showing financial hardship.

This rule will remain in effect for the term of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s orders that banned evictions of residential tenants through May 31 and allowed cities to take additional measures to promote housing security.

“Nothing in this Ordinance shall relive the tenant of liability for any unpaid rent,” the ordinance states. “The landlord may seek the unpaid rent after the expiration of the Term, and the tenant must pay in no event later than 120 days from the expiration of the Term.”

Newsom’s orders were silent on offering relief to commercial tenants so Laguna Beach’s moratorium brings them into the fold, Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis said.

“I also think in this time of virtually no revenues for all of our commercial tenants, other than essential businesses, that this kind of relief is warranted for up to a four-month period,” Whalen said.

Councilmember Sue Kempf recommended tweaking the ordinance to allow landlords and tenants to cut mutually agreeable deals.

“I know of a couple of tenants who are trying to work out… negotiate payment terms with their existing landlords and I was kind of worried that I didn’t want this ordinance to preclude or override what they have negotiated with their landlord,” she said.

Laguna Beach resident Joe Hanauer said he’s negotiating deals with coronavirus-impacted tenants that included a combination of discounted and deferred rent payments. He advocated for the type of legislative carveout recommended by Kempf and approved by the City Council.

Councilmember Toni Iseman said she was concerned that mobile home parks might still try to evict tenants who can’t pay rent for their plots.

“Is there some way we can protect those people?” Iseman asked.

The council agreed to specify that mobile home parks were also subject to the eviction moratorium.

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow said he was concerned about residential landlords who rely on rent to pay their mortgage and other bills every month. He wanted to require documentation of financial hardship as a condition of rent deferral so wealthy individuals don’t shirk their rent obligation.

“You could have a CEO who has decided to reduce his compensation to zero but has $50 million in the bank,” he said. “Those kinds of situations … should not be able to qualify.”

Laguna Beach resident Joe Gordon said he it was great to see the City Council support local renters. He’s happy that’s able to work from home but, unfortunately, his mother isn’t able to complete one of her jobs right now because of COVID-19.

“It’s going to be tight but we’re going to be able to make it through,” Gordon said. “The help from the moratorium on evictions is going to be a huge burden off our backs.”

About 37% of Laguna Beach residential units are rented, according to U.S. Census data.

It was reassuring for Gordon to learn some landlords like Hanauer are being empathic toward tenants who have been furloughed, laid off, or forced to close their businesses.

“It’s good to hear that there are landlords out there who want to help their renters,” Gordon said.

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