(CN) — By a vote of 19-1 on Thursday, the Judicial Council repealed emergency orders suspending foreclosure and unlawful detainer actions in California’s courts, leaving lawmakers just a few weeks to enact legal protections to avert an impending flood of evictions for unpaid rent when the moratorium is officially lifted on Sept. 1.
“This is good news. It gives us just enough time to pass a bill so there's not a gap in eviction protections. We can breathe a very brief sigh of relief,” Assemblymember David Chiu, D-San Francisco, said just after the council’s vote Thursday. “But the work is far from over. Potentially millions of Californians are facing eviction.”
Governor Gavin Newsom gave Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and the council she chairs unprecedented authority in March to adopt emergency rules in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Among other rules it passed in April, the council voted to stay all pending judicial foreclosure actions and prohibit courts from entering default entries or issuing summonses to tenants in unlawful detainer cases — effectively stopping evictions from moving through the court system.
But this week, Cantil-Sakauye made it clear that the time has come to turn that responsibility over to the other two branches of government.
“The judicial branch cannot usurp the responsibility of the other two branches on a long-term basis to deal with the myriad impacts of the pandemic,” she said. “The duty of the judicial branch is to resolve disputes under the law and not to legislate. I urge our sister branches to act expeditiously to resolve this looming crisis.”
While that crisis is not unique — a recent nationwide report says 30-40 million Americans are at risk of eviction — it is particularly acute in California, a state already burdened with rampant homelessness and dearth of affordable housing.
A study by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley notes that as of June, 1 million renter households in California have suffered a job loss because of the pandemic’s resulting economic downturn. A model developed by the Aspen Institute predicts that 3.6 million Californians will be at risk of eviction by the end of September, more than any other state in the country.
Another particularly sobering study by a team of UCLA researchers led by law professor emeritus Gary Blasi estimated that with no income, 365,000 renter households in Los Angeles County alone are in immediate danger of eviction. “No one can say when the tsunami of evictions will arrive,” the researchers wrote. “We can say that it is coming.”
In an interview, anti-poverty lawyer and USC Gould School of Law professor Clare Pastore said the “greatest dislocation of families since the Great Depression” is looming.
“It's truly frightening, and everyone is grappling with what to do about it,” Pastore said. “The pressure is really on the Legislature to act.”
Pastore said the state’s looming eviction crisis is bound up in many factors: a chronic housing shortage, a vast number of people already devoting more of than 30% of their monthly income on rent, and the recent lapse of federal unemployment benefits that had helped renters nationwide make their rent payments in April, May, and June.
“It's disgraceful that Congress has not acted to prolong expanded unemployment benefits,” she said.
As congressional infighting over another round of pandemic relief drags on, California lawmakers are desperate to ease the financial burden on both tenants and landlords.
Two bills are currently being debated in the state Assembly and Senate. Chiu is the author of Assembly Bill 1436, which bans landlords from evicting tenants for unpaid rent until April 1, 2021, or 90 days after the Covid-19 state of emergency ends, whichever happens first.