Rents, Debts and Evictions in San Diego

by on December 7, 2020 · 0 comments

in Economy, San Diego

On the way out of OB. Photo by Judith Starker

Rents and the threat of evictions are on the minds of a lot of people these days. Nationally, there are millions of renters struggling to come up with monthly rent. And landlords are wondering what to do. Congress stalling on relief for months hasn’t helped.

Outstanding rent debt is estimated to run as high as $7.2 billion by the end of the year, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

Last August, Gavin Newsom signed a law that shielded all renters from eviction due to COVID-19-related back rent through February 1, 2021. It’s one of the longest rent moratoriums in the country.

Someone who lost work or income in the early days of the pandemic could avoid paying rent from March to August 31. If hardship continued from September 1, 2020 to January 31, 2021, the tenant must pay 25 percent of rent to avoid eviction. The  renter is still responsible for money owed. The law also states unpaid rent, considered civil debt, can be claimed by landlords in small claims court starting March 1, 2021.

So, how many renters have not been paying in San Diego County? The San Diego Union-Tribune recently looked into it.

And they found a lot of fogginess –  a huge gap of information, data not collected by economists. One economist explained:

“It’s just not data we collect. There’s millions of apartments out there. You need to be able to collect data in some consistent fashion on a regular basis from thousands, if not millions, of landlords at different levels of sophistication. It just isn’t easy.”

The data that does exist is on professionally managed apartment units but it does not capture a lot of the smaller landlord situations. The U-T:

A September study from property management and software company RealPage said the San Diego metropolitan area had one of the highest percentages of people actually paying rent in the nation. It said just 3.4 percent of renters in San Diego were not paying, compared to 12.9 percent in New Orleans and 10.6 percent in Las Vegas.

Economists at RealPage said high payment totals are partly the result of deals renters had worked out with landlords. They used data from the National Multifamily Housing Council, which tracks more than 11 million apartments.

While 3.4 percent of renters not paying in San Diego may seem high, it is important to remember there are often people who don’t pay rent in good times; The percentage of people not paying rent in San Diego was only up 1.2 percent from the same time in 2019.

The U-T went to San Diego-based FBS Property Management for insight; they operate around 900 apartments across 72 ZIP codes in San Diego County.

FBS Vice President Lucinda Lilley told the U-T that about 10 percent of their tenants worked out payment plans or other deals because of hardship due to job losses related to the pandemic. Only 20 out of 900 have not paid at all for several months, and are not compliant with sending in paperwork to prove their case.

Because of the eviction moratoriums, there isn’t a whole lot that FBS can do. Lilley said:

“The majority of our residents who have experienced financial difficulty have been extremely cooperative, And so are we. We don’t want to evict people. Evicting people as a landlord is bad business — it costs money, it costs time and we don’t want to displace people.”

The article does admit, “…more aggressive landlords have sought ‘just cause’ evictions.” Just cause evictions include being a nuisance, lease violations not related to rent or using an apartment for an illegal purpose.

The renter advocacy group San Diego Tenants Union knows full well that not all property managers are the same. They have been dealing with these issues for months. Tenants Union organizer Ash Kuhnert told the U-T she has “personally worked with at least 20 renters who had a loss of income due to COVID-19 and landlords still tried to evict them under just cause provisions.” From the U-T:

In one case, the tenants union provided paperwork from a renter in City Heights who had not paid rent because her husband lost his job. She was still working. Still, they turned in paperwork to prove loss of income due to the pandemic as a reason for delayed payment.

The landlord sent a letter trying to evict, stating she was playing music and loitering in common areas, and was somehow involved in a drug raid at the complex and other allegations. The tenant strongly denied all the claims and is working with the tenants union to prove her case. Efforts to reach the landlord were unsuccessful and the tenant declined to have her name in the paper.

Kuhnert said hundreds of renters are in similar situations and need help navigating the law.

“If we let these landlords get away with it, it will just get worse and worse,” she said.

There are rent relief programs in San Diego County. One is through the San Diego Housing Commission, which was based on $15.1 million given by the San Diego City Council through federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act. An additional $5 million has been earmarked by the city.

And San Diego County has its own $27 million rent relief program that could potentially help tenants who mistakenly applied to the Housing Commission.

In the meantime, renters have not seen a large drop in rent prices. Average asking rent was around $1,873 a month in the third quarter of 2020, said real estate tracker CoStar, up about 1 percent in a year.


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