If you're a landlord, you've probably heard about pandemic-related eviction moratoriums. But did you know that not only are eviction moratoriums in place, they keep being extended? This is a troubling development for landlords. Being able to evict tenants for nonpayment of rent is a landlord's only recourse when a tenant can't or won't pay rent. Find out what one Los Angeles commercial landlord is doing about this and about some residential cases.
The first commercial case
In the first case of a commercial landlord suing over the eviction moratorium, retired mechanic Howard Iten, who leases space to an auto repair franchisee, filed a federal lawsuit to overturn the eviction moratorium, arguing the government has no right or authority to butt into a private lease agreement.
Iten's attorney, Damien Schiff, makes the point that it's unfair to make landlords shoulder the pandemic burden.
Iten's tenant owes, as of January 2021, over $30,000 in rent, and this repair shop has even stayed open during the pandemic, as L.A. County deemed auto repair "essential."
The L.A. County eviction policy
L.A. County has banned both commercial and residential evictions for nonpayment of rent. No one knows how long this moratorium will last, as the county keeps extending it. Then, after the moratorium is lifted (or shall we say if?), tenants with nine or fewer employees have 12 months to pay back the rent owed. Tenants with between 10 and 100 employees have six months to pay the rent owed. Good luck to the landlord to ever see any of that.
Other federal lawsuits
Other similar federal lawsuits have been filed because of national eviction moratoriums that provide only temporary help for tenants and leave landlords holding the bag. These lawsuits have to do with residential landlords.
The National Apartment Association
The National Apartment Association has joined a group of landlords along with the New Civil Liberties Alliance in a joint lawsuit filed in a Georgia federal district court to stop the eviction moratorium.
The claim is against the CDC for issuing the moratorium in the first place, stating that an eviction moratorium violates the constitution by preempting state landlord-tenant law. The CDC as an agency simply doesn't wield that sort of power, according to the New Civil Liberties Alliance.
Tennessee property owners
Using a similar argument to the one above, a group of Tennessee property owners filed a federal lawsuit claiming the CDC's moratorium is unconstitutional in that it takes away a landlord's right to due process regarding their own properties.
Since the government worsened the problem of tenants not being able to afford to pay rent by putting people out of work from lockdowns, many people say the government should pay in the form of emergency rental assistance rather than putting the burden on landlords who have a business to run as well.
Providing rental relief to tenants serves to help renters, whereas eviction moratoriums only serve to kick the can down the road, since the rent will come due at some point. And when the rent does become due, many renters won't be able to pay it back. Plus, during eviction moratoriums, if landlords aren't collecting rent, they could go out of business as well.
The Millionacres bottom line
Everyone recognizes that people need help during a pandemic. The question is whether one group should be singled out to pay the price; in this case, landlords. The lawsuits that are starting to pile up are trying to make the point that we mustn't infringe upon the rights of one group to help another. Plus, moratoriums that help tenants (and only temporarily at that) at the expense of landlords will put some landlords out of business, creating even bigger problems.
Eric Dunn of the National Housing Law Project, a group that advocates for "housing justice for poor people," thinks these lawsuits against the CDC won't be successful, stating other similar cases filed previously were dismissed. On behalf of landlords, let's hope he's wrong.