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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on March 25th, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 4 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 21, Issue 4

Supervisors approve eviction moratorium during COVID-19 pandemic

By Zac Ezzone

Santa Barbara County residents anxious about their ability to pay rent during the COVID-19 pandemic have received some relief through a moratorium on evictions now in place in the unincorporated areas of the county.

At its March 24 meeting, the board unanimously approved an urgency ordinance that temporarily prohibits any evictions involving people who have lost income or taken on substantial medical expenses because of COVID-19. This item was placed on the board’s agenda for its March 24 meeting at the request of 1st District Supervisor Das Williams and 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart, according to a news release from their offices.

“If there were a large number of evictions, we would either have more people congregating as homeless or more people congregating in the homes of friends and families,” Williams said during the meeting. “That is not a good thing for limiting the spread of coronavirus.”

According to a staff report for the item, under this ordinance, tenants would still be required to pay rent and landlords would still maintain the ability to recover rent that’s due to them in the future. But this measure would prevent landlords from evicting tenants during the pandemic.

The board received a few public comment letters from residents urging the supervisors to adopt the ordinance. In one, Lenora Walter said she’s a lifelong county resident who works three jobs in the wine, restaurant, and bar industries. She said that because of the pandemic, she’s temporarily out of work.

“Before the crisis I intended to finish up my high-level wine certification course and go to graduate school next year,” Walter said in her letter. “Now I am terrified that I will be unable to pay my half of rent (I live with a roommate) and default this month—and I definitely will next month.”

The board also received letters from some smaller landlords who said they rely on tenants’ rental payments as their only source of income. In a letter to the board, the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors said it supports this ordinance, but suggested some additional language to further clarify that nothing in this ordinance relieves tenants of paying rent as well as a suggestion that tenants must begin paying back rent they owe in the first month after the ordinance expires.

“We suggest these modifications to make the ordinance clearer for the public … . There are landlords who rely on the rent from tenants for their mortgage payments and/or their own survival,” the letter states. “Deferring rent affects everyone and as such both sides of the transaction need to be addressed.”

The ordinance remains in effect until the end of May or until the county terminates its local health emergency proclamation, which was announced on March 12. As of March 24, 19 people in the county had tested positive for COVID-19, while 229 people have tested negative and 245 results are pending, according to the county Public Health Department.

The vote on this ordinance comes about a week after Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order on March 16 that made it easier for local governments to pass these types of eviction moratoriums.

“People shouldn’t lose or be forced out of their homes because of the spread of COVID-19,” Newsom said in a news release. “Over the next few weeks, everyone will have to make sacrifices, but a place to live shouldn’t be one of them.”

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