About 1 in 5 renters in Los Angeles County have paid their rent late or missed a rent payment since the start of the pandemic, a to study jointly released by UCLA and USC on Monday shows. While a moratorium on evictions remains in place, the study found that about 40,000 LA County tenants said their landlords have started the eviction process, even though they cannot legally be forced to move. go.
The moratorium on evictions was extended by Gov. Gavin Newsom this week, but those tenants risk losing their homes when it expires.
In anticipation of such hardships for tenants, Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to delegate $ 10 million in federal relief funds to a legal defense fund for tenants threatened with eviction.
While this has been a tough year for many renters, low-income, disproportionately black and Latino renters have borne the brunt of the Los Angeles housing crisis, UCLA and UCLA researchers have found. USC.
“COVID-19 has magnified and exacerbated the hardships of tenants, depriving them of the income they relied on to stay up to date on rent,” the researchers wrote.
The study found that many of these tenants relied on unsustainable means such as credit cards and payday loans to cover the cost of their rents,
Richard Green, director of the USC Lusk Center and co-author of the study, said the majority of those who missed their rent had lost their jobs or had seen a member of their household fall ill. Despite concerns expressed by some landlords about the moratorium on evictions, tenants who could pay their rent always did, Green said. However, some owners have carried out evictions.
The findings of the study were corroborated by a LA Times investigation police data, which revealed landlords continued to use methods such as foreclosing tenants and shutting down utilities to force evictions, even under the moratorium.
“There was no one going to accept the papers,” Green said, “but I guess you can always go to your tenant and say, ‘I’m going to evict you. “”
Edgar Campos, director of the association TRUST South LA., said immigrant renters may be more likely to be exploited by landlords and illegally evicted. TRUST, which functions as a land trust to help prevent the displacement of southern LA residents, is advocating for a rent freeze and cancellation of rents as well as a moratorium on evictions.
“You have situations where the owners can take a more confrontational position, and people, out of fear of eviction or other issues, can just leave the premises,” Campos said.
Even though they know their rights, tenants often cannot fight back and leave when landlords ask them to.
“The lack of clarity around these protocols, coupled with the fear,” Campos said, “creates a situation that does not help tenant rights. “
Homeowners took advantage of southern LA tenants long before the pandemic.
TRUST South LA is working with tenants near USC, where Campos said off-campus student housing and other developments have increasingly displaced black and brown residents who have spent their lives in the area.
In 2017, the new owners of the properties in block 1100 of Boulevard Exposition evicted their tenants, moving almost all of them to renovate the buildings and transform them into student accommodation. It was one of many examples demonstrating the struggle for affordable housing in an area that is home to a large private university.
As the pandemic devastated Los Angeles’ economy, more and more members of the USC community have also struggled to afford off-campus housing and pay rents on time.
When USC alumnus Sam Cavalcanti was fired from her escape room job in March, she immediately alerted her owner. “They first responded within a few days,” she said, “but as I explained my situation, they started not responding at all.”
Like many other Californians, Cavalcanti waited weeks for his jobless claim to be processed.
“Whether or not the owner approved my late payments was not going to change the fact that I just couldn’t pay back then,” Cavalcanti said. “So I asked less for permission and I informed her more that the money just wasn’t there.”
After falling three months behind on his $ 850 rent, Cavalcanti finally contacted his property management company, StuHo, and paid him off.
“I was moving in August, so I wanted to pay everything properly lest they blame me somehow, and that might prevent me from asking for accommodation elsewhere,” she said. declared.
StuHo did not immediately respond to Annenberg Media’s request for comment.
A petition to Changer.org is calling on the Lorenzo, an off-campus apartment complex for USC students, to waive or reduce rents, which start at $ 950, during the pandemic. The petition has over 1,000 signatures.
“Although most residents have already left the complex out of fear for their own safety, the closure of all amenities and the cancellation of all events. Lorenzo always charges the same price to all residents, ”the petition states,“… These students have to find a way to pay their rent. “
The UCLA-USC study found that in the midst of an income crisis on top of a housing crisis, the best solution is rent assistance. LA County began offering emergency rent assistance in August, but that will only be enough for a fraction of those in need. Not only would increasing rent assistance prevent evictions, the researchers say, it could alleviate long-term tenants’ hardships, such as paying off their loans and credit card debts.
“Renters can pay their rent, landlords can pay their mortgages, and I see that as the only solution,” Green said. “At the end of the day, you have to put the money in the hands of the tenants.”