A key committee in the state Legislature has approved a CAA-sponsored bill that would provide financial relief to landlords excluded from the COVID-19 emergency rental assistance program (ERAP).

The bill, SB 847 by Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, won unanimous approval in the Senate Housing Committee on Thursday. The bill next heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Melissa Hurtado

Hurtado’s bill would provide state dollars to rental owners who’ve gone without rent and whose tenants either won’t cooperate in the ERAP application process or don’t qualify for the assistance. While the bill would provide funding for all affected owners, it would prioritize small owners to receive those dollars first.

Under California’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium, tenants who failed to pay their rent were protected from eviction if they claimed a pandemic related financial hardship. Many landlords have since learned that their nonpaying tenants continued to work during the pandemic and don’t qualify for rental assistance, leaving these owners with limited ability to collect the back rent.

Such is the case with Michael Hagerty, a retiree who lives in a mobile home park and rents out a single unit in Emeryville. Testifying before the Housing Committee Thursday, Hagerty said his tenant stopped paying the rent when the pandemic began, despite having kept working. Meanwhile, the resident racked up more than $40,000 in rental arrears.

Michael Hagerty

Although the tenant applied for rental assistance, he was denied because he makes too much money. This left Hagerty ineligible for help. 

“I have had to borrow money from my IRA to pay the mortgage and taxes on the property,” Hagerty testified. “I won’t be able to continue to maintain this property if my tenant is allowed to live rent-free. I won’t be able to sell the unit with the tenant in place and the potential is foreclosure if I can’t pay the mortgage.”

Anita Earl, who owns a home in Sacramento, told the committee her tenant went two years without paying rent during the pandemic. Although Earl applied for rental assistance, the renter refused to cooperate.

Anita Earl

Earl finally got her rental back but found it had extensive damage, including light fixtures pulled from the ceilings, holes in the walls and doors, flooding on her hard-wood floors, and the washing machine stolen. All told, it would cost the owner $50,000 to repair her home, more than she can afford. Her only option is to sell.

“All of this breaks my heart because in 1959, my grandmother, along with my mother, her daughter, traveled via Greyhound to buy that house, and it’s been in our family ever since,” said Earl, whose voice began to crack with emotion. “Little did we know it would end like this.”

Should SB 847 become law, landlords will need to provide evidence that they applied for help through ERAP and did not receive funding or have a civil judgment against the tenant who has not paid, or both.

Anita Earl of Sacramento testifies before the Senate Housing Committee Thursday, March 24, in support of SB 847.