The Arcata City Council on Thursday voted unanimously, after much discussion, to restrict evictions for tenants unable to afford rent due to the coronavirus pandemic.
During a special session held in response to COVID-19 concerns, the council voted 4-0 to adopt the urgency ordinance, which went into effect immediately and will expire May 31 unless extended.
The ordinance applies to both residential and commercial rentals, as well as mobile home space rentals — an addition council member specifically requested. The ordinance specifies that all past-due rent incurred by tenants during the duration of the ordinance must be paid in full to the landlord within 90 days after the ordinance expires.
The ordinance states a tenant must notify their landlord or property management firm no later than one day before rent is due, and must provide documentation supporting their inability to pay as a result of the coronavirus within seven days of declaring they cannot pay rent.
A tenant must meet one of the following conditions to rightfully declare their inability to pay rent as resulting from the coronavirus: A tenant’s job was lost or hours were reduced due to their place of employment shutting down or laying off employees as a result of governmental orders in response to COVID-19 such as sheltering in place; a tenant had a sudden large medical expense resulting from COVID-19; or a commercial tenant’s business was impacted by governmental responses to COVID-19.
The conditions were taken from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s March 16 executive order, which suspended all state laws and restrictions which would prohibit a city from restricting evictions.
The council also added in amendments which extend the eviction restrictions to parents suffering a loss of work due to sudden childcare responsibilities resulting from the closure of schools, and to people taking care of household family members diagnosed with COVID-19.
The tenant’s rental repayment period of 90 days was a spot of contention for the council.
Mayor Michael Winkler and council member Brett Watson wanted the ordinance to allow 60 days for tenants to pay back missed rent. Council members Sofia Pereira and Paul Pitino wanted the period to last for 120 days.
“I worry about a tenant digging themselves into a hole,” Watson said. “I don’t want to find someone in a position where they have to pay back five or six months’ worth of rent.”
Pereira responded, saying “the more flexibility we can give, the better.”
“I don’t think 60 days is reasonable,” Pereira said. “This isn’t a ticket for a bunch of people to say ‘I’m not going to pay rent…’ “
The council members also split over the same lines over whether or not to tie the ordinance to Newsom’s executive order, which the governor has said multiple times he may extend, thereby ensuring the eviction moratorium would last the duration of the coronavirus emergency.
The council decided to stick with a May 31 end date. Winkler, who argued for a firm end date, said the council can always come back and extend the ordinance.
City Manager Karen Diemer on Saturday declared the existence of a local emergency in Arcata to enable the city to better allocate funds in response to the coronavirus.
The council voted unanimously to adopt a resolution confirming Diemer’s declaration.
As Director of Emergency Services, Diemer will be in charge of managing the city’s resources in response the coronavirus.
Council votes to establish relief loan fund
The council also voted unanimously to establish a loan relief fund for the business in the city negatively impacted by the coronavirus.
The resolution establishes a Business Resiliency Emergency Loan Program for the city to help keep afloat business struggling amid economic fallout from COVID-19.
Andrew Butler can be reached at 707-441-0526.