I was never able to convince my tenant to participate in the various rental assistance programs throughout the pandemic. Is it too late to obtain funds?
The answer is “no,” it is not too late. In fact, effective March of 2023, a local City-funded rental assistance program is covering rents that accrued during the past three years. The various rental assistance agencies have differing criteria as to who qualifies for what amounts, but all housing operators with unpaid rent from existing tenancies are urged to seek cooperation from their residents to complete and submit rent relief applications at this time.
The largest program, SF Emergency Rental Assistance Program, or ERAP, www.sf.gov/information/sf-erap-frequently-asked-questions, is currently open and “is a community-based program aimed at keeping the City’s most at-risk tenants in their homes as part of the City and County of San Francisco’s eviction prevention and housing stabilization efforts.” To that end, most if not all rental assistance programs including ERAP will pay to keep residents housed. If your tenant has left owing you money, you may just have to go to small claims court to recover unpaid rent.
The other question many housing providers are currently facing is whether they can, or should, invoke the unlawful detainer (UD) or eviction processes as to those tenants that have rental debt that has accrued during these past three-plus years. For starters, you may never bring a UD regarding rental debt that is over 12 months old, so anything that accrued during the first two-plus years of the pandemic is no longer eligible for a UD action. Secondly, as many of you have heard, a tenant may assert as a defense in any UD proceeding for nonpayment of rent that COVID/pandemic induced hardships prevented the tenant from being able to pay rent. As such, while there is technically no “eviction moratorium” in San Francisco, the pandemic economic hardship defense may be asserted for rent that accrued from July 2022 through at least July of 2023. Therefore, this author advises SFAA members to make every meaningful attempt to negotiate, work with, and otherwise settle with your residents without having to resort to UD litigation. Simply put, this is not the time to be rushing to court, as there are better alternatives.
So please encourage your residents that owe rent to apply now to the various rental assistance agencies, including ERAP. If the tenant no longer lives in your building, you may have to visit small claims court where, incidentally, there are no jurisdictional limits for residential rents at this time, meaning you can bring a case for as much rent as is owed. As for the UD process, make this your last resort. Tenants may still avoid evictions for unpaid rent if they show that the pandemic caused them economic hardship and thus an inability to pay. Furthermore, even if you do have to file a UD, your case will likely settle prior to trial usually under the following guidelines: (i) the resident stays, agrees to a repayment plan, and completes all applications to available rent relief programs; (ii) the resident leaves with some or all of the unpaid rent being forgiven; and/or (iii) a combination of (i) and (ii) above.