San Diego County’s strict eviction ban survived its first legal challenge in federal court.

Unlike most of California, San Diego law does not allow landlords to relocate if they have a tenant occupying the property because some local officials see that as a loophole to evict a tenant who does not pay. There are still statewide laws to prevent tenants from being evicted to slow the spread of COVID-19 through October.

The Southern California Rental Housing Association had sought to have the law repealed based on arguments that it violated parts of the U.S. Constitution. However, US District Court Judge James Lorenz issued a ruling on Tuesday evening that the short-term nature of the law outweighed the hardship for homeowners.

The San Diego County law expires Aug. 14, but the association — a homeowners group made up mostly of San Diego County members — said it fears it could be extended, which has partly led to to the legal challenge. He filed an appeal Tuesday evening with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit within an hour of the judge’s ruling.

Lorenz wrote in her ruling that the San Diego law had a strong public purpose and that it filled a significant gap in California’s eviction laws.

“The harm (owners) suffered in terms of stress and emotional hardship will be short-lived as the order is due to expire in mid-August 2021,” he wrote.

All California tenants are still subject to an eviction moratorium that expires September 30. This means that tenants who have lost income due to the pandemic, at any time in the past 1 1/2 years, cannot be evicted due to non-payment.

The San Diego County law, approved by the Board of Supervisors in May, went beyond state law. In most of California, a landlord can remove a tenant if they intend to move into the residence themselves or make major repairs.

Supervisor Nora Vargas, who introduced the eviction bill, said landlords could use the exception as a loophole to get rid of nonpaying tenants. The association’s lawsuit argued that the law deprived property owners of rights to use properties protected by the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution.

Lorenz wrote that the association failed to prove that constitutional rights were violated because there was no “substantial impairment” of the landlord-tenant contract because the period was so short and the county had established an “important or legitimate public purpose” by passing its moratorium.

“The purpose of the order is to keep residents sheltered in their homes to slow the speed of COVID-19,” he wrote. “The public interest therefore weighs heavily against banning the order.”

San Diego County law also does not allow landlords to evict tenants for “just cause” reasons, such as lease violations.

The association’s executive director, Alan Pentico, said Wednesday morning that the law was unfair to landlords and unconstitutional. He also said rapidly changing pandemic rules, such as new guidelines for wearing masks indoors in some areas of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, make it important for them to stay on top of the legislation.

“There are so many things open it’s unpredictable,” he said. “We try to cover all the bases.”

There are still several local and statewide rent relief programs that could pay all of a tenant’s rent arrears. If the tenant does not apply or does not qualify (e.g. no loss of income related to COVID-19), they will be required to pay all arrears of rent.

Although landlords are concerned that the San Diego law deadline will be extended, as the order and judge’s decision currently stands, landlords could start telling tenants now that they intend to return to properties by mid-August and to comply with the law.

Several tenants contacted the San Diego Union-Tribune fearing their landlord was breaking the law because they received letters from landlords saying they would be returning in the next few months. However, if the county does not extend eviction protection, the landlords are not breaking the law.

Gov. Gavin Newsom extended the statewide moratorium earlier this month through Sept. 30 and said the state would pay 100% of back rent owed. Previously, state law said a tenant could only be paid 80% if their landlord forgave 20%. Also, the future rent was only 25%, but now everything will be covered.

Tenants must still provide landlords with a hardship statement (sample form link at bottom of article) to receive rent relief. Then they must apply for one of three major rent relief programs in Chula Vista, City of San Diego or County of San Diego.

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Sample COVID-19 hardship form: https://housing.ca.gov/pdf/forms/tenant/1179_02d.pdf

San Diego Rent Relief: (619) 535-6921 / https://www.sdhc.org/housing-opportunities/help-with-your-rent/covid-19-rental-assistance/

Chula Vista Rent Relief: (619) 271-1805 / https://www.chulavistaca.gov/departments/development-services/housing/assistance-during-covid-19/rentalandutility

San Diego County Rent Relief: (858) 694-4801 / https://www.sandiegocounty.gov/sdhcd/community-development/COVID-19-Emergency-Rental-Assistance-Program.html