Judicial Council suspends vote on reopening courts

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The Judicial Council of California on Wednesday suspended its vote whether to reopen the courts and start processing unlawful-detainer actions again this summer.

The California court system announced earlier this week that the council would decide today whether to let its emergency rule on evictions expire Aug. 3.

The council’s rule, made during an emergency meeting in April, brought to a halt nearly all eviction actions in the state. The rule was in response to the financial hardships that many tenants faced due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Now that California is beginning to reopen, the Judicial Council decided to weigh a possible lifting of its rule by late summer. Since that time, however, the council has come under pressure to keep its rule in place.

“After discussions with the governor, legislative leaders, and Judicial Council members — as well as hearing from residents with many different viewpoints — I have suspended for the time being the vote on the emergency rules dealing with evictions and judicial foreclosures,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said in this press release. “I believe the executive and legislative branches will need more time to sort through various policy proposals.”

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye

After the council issued its rule, the California Apartment Association asked for revisions, finding the rule well-intended but overly broad, as it protected not only renters financially injured by COVID-19, but also tenants who were unscathed by the virus but chose to withhold rent anyway. The rule also left landlords with no mechanism to remove tenants who caused problems at their properties, such as by harassing other tenants.

As written, the rule has no clear end date, being tied to Gov. Newsom’s declaration of emergency, which could be renewed repeatedly.

“Obviously, we were looking forward to a decision today so that rental housing providers could have some certainty about when court actions would resume,” said Tom Bannon, CAA’s chief executive officer. “Until the courts reopen, rental property owners are without the legal tools necessary to preserve the peaceful, quiet enjoyment of their rental communities.”

Tom Bannon

Although California’s economy is reopening, CAA realizes that many COVID-19 impacted renters are continuing to struggle with rent payments. The association urges its members to continue showing compassion and patience with these residents, regardless of any action the Judicial Council takes.

“Eviction should always be the last resort, especially when people have been out of work or had their hours cut,” Bannon said. “We urge all providers of rental housing to consider the individual circumstances of each resident and work out payment plans that are reasonable for both the resident and the property owner.”

CAA also is fighting for legislative solutions, including SB 1410, the association-sponsored bill that would help cover the rent of COVID-19 affected renters, allowing them to avoid mountains of rent debt while ensuring that landlords can pay their own bills.

“It’s going to take smart lawmaking to ensure that we have a balanced approach to address the needs of both property owners and tenants who have been negatively affected by this pandemic,” Bannon added.

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