With mounting criticism against the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors’ possible violation of the Brown Act (California’s open meeting law) by holding meetings without allowing public comment, Third District Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who represents Malibu, held her first-ever virtual town hall last week.
While the live Facebook event Wednesday evening, May 6, did not allow public comment, it did answer prescreened questions—which is how Kuehl operates her in-person town halls.
Acknowledging “fear and insecurity” during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kuehl focused on landlords’ and tenants’ rights because so many are out of work and perhaps unable to pay rent. Her guest was Los Angeles County Director of the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs Joe Nicchitta, who alerted attendees to a new county disaster help center at lacountyhelpcenter.org or 833.238.4450.
Nicchitta clarified that landlords may qualify as small businesses to apply for disaster loans including the federal paycheck protection program to recoup loss rent.
The county enacted an eviction moratorium from March 4 through May 31, eventually expanding the freeze on evictions through June. This means if you’re a tenant experiencing a COVID-19 related financial hardship, you cannot be evicted until July at the earliest. The county’s eviction moratorium also applies to small businesses. “It’s not a rent cancellation,” Nicchitta clarified. Back rent will come due following a 12-month grace period.
“We’re trying to stabilize people—keep them in their homes. This applies to small businesses as well,” Nicchitta stated. He encouraged landlords and tenants to “establish a voluntary repayment plan.” Tenants are encouraged to pay what they can.
The DCBA has mediators and staff who can help draft repayment plans.
An important point: Tenants need to let their landlords know seven days before non-payment due to COVID-19 hardships unless there are extenuating circumstances, like being sick or hospitalized with the disease.
Asked about rental assistance for the jobless once the coronavirus emergency is lifted, the DCBA director indicated the board will be looking into adopting a rental assistance program for COVID-19 hardships.
“If you are in dire straits now, as a landlord, and tenants haven’t paid rent and you can’t pay your mortgage, the DCBA has an existing foreclosure prevention program,” according to Nicchitta. Historically only available to homeowners, it is being extended to landlords with 15 or fewer units. “We can help with loan modifications, counseling—we can help engage your lender in a way that perhaps some owners can’t on their own. Sometimes, it helps to have the county ask questions on your behalf,” the director stated.
“If you’re being threatened with eviction, call the help center line. We have a team that specializes in landlord-tenant issues. Don’t wait. We can be the go-between,” Nicchitta emphasized.
More county COVID-19 financial assistance and grants through public-private partnerships are in development and could be rolled out later this month.
Nicchitta emphasized, “The best plan is to contact the LACO Disaster Help Center to speak with a trained specialist who can match people with available funding.