As you are certainly aware at this point, the COVID crisis has put enormous pressure on lower income members of the community, many of whom have had their hours reduced or are completely without work. They struggle to feed their families, pay their utility bills, and meet their rent. In an effort to address these hardships, concerned politicians at all levels have worked to develop various forms of relief.
One of the more innovative forms of relief, embodied in California’s AB 3088, is the conversion of rent debt to civil debt, otherwise referred to as non-evictable debt. This is debt that is still owed to the landlord but cannot serve as the basis for eviction. If the rent remains unpaid, landlords can seek to recover it, but this can only be done through standard collection procedures, such as filing an action in small claims court.
Specifically, AB 3088 says that for the period March 1, 2020 through January 31, 2021, a major portion of unpaid rent is eligible to be converted to civil debt, provided that tenants pay a specified fraction of the rent that is due and fill out a form indicating that the nonpayment of rent is caused by pressures arising from the COVID pandemic.
In recent weeks, One San Mateo, acting on behalf of the People’s Alliance of San Mateo County (PASMC), has overseen the creation and distribution of a mailer to 4,000 low-income renter households in San Mateo to make them aware of the protections afforded by AB 3088. A copy of this mailer in both English and Spanish is attached. Similar mailers have been sent to 14,000 households in other cities in San Mateo County bearing the logo of allied organizations that are also members of PASMC.
AB 3088 provided important relief, but under its terms, tenants will be required to pay 100 percent of their rent beginning on February 1, 2021 or else be subject to eviction from their homes. With the virus continuing to rage and businesses shut down again, this date is alarmingly close, and the prospect of widespread eviction becomes exceedingly real. Undocumented families are at special risk of eviction since they have been eligible for neither unemployment benefits nor stimulus checks.
In the coming weeks, One San Mateo and its allies will be examining possible options for extending relief measures to keep renters in their homes. I hope you will join us in making the case for this relief. In the midst of the current pandemic, it would be unconscionable to allow thousands of families to be forced from their homes.
Finally at year’s end, a word of thanks. On behalf of One San Mateo, I want to express my deep gratitude to the many of you who have extended financial and volunteer help to your neighbors over the past months, who have raised your voices to protest against systemic racism, and who cast your votes in favor of a more inclusive community this fall. While 2020 has been an undeniably difficult year, there is still much we can be thankful for. I ardently hope that we are.
Vice Chair of One San Mateo