Monday, June 01, 2020

Legislation Prohibiting Evictions during COVID-19 Period on Governor’s Desk

Senate Bill S8192B / Assembly Bill 10290B passed both the Assembly and Senate and is currently on the Governor’s desk for signature. The legislation will prohibit the eviction of residential tenants who suffered financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Specifically, the bill covers the period from March 7, 2020 until various Executive Orders which placed restrictions requiring closure of and restriction on businesses and establishments, or postponement or cancellation of non-essential gatherings continue to apply in the county of the tenant’s residence (“COVID-19 Covered Period”). Further, the bill allows residential tenants to raise a defense of financial hardship during such period in a summary proceeding and courts shall consider the tenant’s income prior to and during the COVID-19 Covered Period, liquid assets, and eligibility for cash assistance, disability, unemployment insurance, and state or federal programs.

This legislation expands Executive Order 202.8 which imposed a statewide eviction moratorium until June 18, 2020 and Executive Order 202.28 which extended the moratorium to August 20, 2020 for tenants facing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike the previous Executive Orders, the legislation does not prohibit the initiation of summary eviction proceedings, it merely prohibits the courts from issuing judgments of possession and warrants of eviction. It does not prevent landlords from obtaining money judgments for unpaid rent.

While this legislation is a softer blow to landlords than a complete prohibition on the initiation of eviction proceedings, the main concern for landlords is that the COVID-19 Covered Period can last well up to 2021. Further, as landlords can only get a money judgment and not an eviction, the judgment does not stop the bleeding and would eventually require landlords to go back to court to obtain another judgment for rent prior to the tenants vacating the property.

A lawsuit has already been filed by landlords to nullify provisions of Executive Order 202.28 which prohibit landlords from pursuing eviction proceedings until August 19, 2020 and which allow tenants to use the security deposit toward rent payments. The landlords argue the Executive Order allows tenants to withhold rent without immediate repercussion and precludes landlords from utilizing security deposits as compensation for damages caused to the unit by the tenant. It is expected that if the bill is enacted into law, litigation will surely follow.

In the meantime, landlords should consult counsel for strategies on how to mitigate their risk due to tenants’ nonpayment.


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