Stockton’s COVID-19 moratoriums on commercial and residential evictions will officially cease at the end of February after more than two years.
In a 4-3 vote, City Council passed an ordinance last week amending the pandemic-era policies put in place to protect renters from being evicted if they had suffered financial consequences related to the novel coronavirus to conclude three months sooner than originally intended.
Though city staff did clarify that renters will be given six months to pay any back rent owed before they can be evicted.
“There are plenty of jobs out there, whether you like them or not. If you need to work, there are jobs out there to be had and we need people to get back to work,” Vice Mayor Christina Fugazi said. “I’m in full support of this item.”
Stockton approved a moratorium on residential evictions in June 2020 when a statewide lockdown had put many people out of work for months to slow the spread of COVID-19 and then a similar moratorium for the commercial sector in January 2021.
Initially, both were set to automatically expire 90 days after the governor ends California’s pandemic emergency declaration. However, councilmembers voted last Tuesday to amend the end date for the moratoriums to instead coincide with the conclusion of the state declaration.
Governor Gavin Newsom announced in October that the state will officially rescind its emergency order Feb. 28. Stockton City Council also unanimously voted earlier this month to end its own proclamation on the same date. During that meeting, councilmembers asked for the moratoriums to be put on the following week’s agenda.
“We’ve heard a lot from the public, from people who’ve lost out on investment properties or their ability to recapture lost rents,” Councilmember Sol Jobrack previously said.
Stockton’s renters will have until Aug. 28 to get caught up on any back rent accrued before Feb. 28. However, the six-month grace period will not apply to any late rent that occurs after the February deadline, which could therefore be subject to eviction proceedings.
Councilmember Dan Wright voiced concerns during last Tuesday’s meeting of doing away with the 90-day waiting period, which he said is important for community outreach, and proposed a motion to push the end date out another 30 days or so to March 31 instead.
“The outreach work that we’re going to need to do, to the people who are in arrears, won’t be able to start until mid January, most likely,” Wright said. “And that will leave us more or less six weeks to get the word out to those that are going to have to come up with some kind of serious plan here.”
Though Wright also made note of the of work Stockton has done to support both tenants and landlords during the pandemic and said that he had sympathy for both renters and landlords in this situation. City Manager Harry Black confirmed that the city had “issued more than $40 million worth of emergency rental assistance to 5,000 households in Stockton” since 2020.
“The only thing I’m really struggling with is this timeline,” Wright said.
Councilmember Kimberley Warmsley echoed those sentiments, noting “a rise in our displaced and unsheltered residents,” and that the Council at least owed the community some outreach efforts.
“I agree to allow some grace and modification to the point that we are allowing just a little more flexibility and that education piece because that is critical and important,” Warmsley said. “Especially if the expectations going in was that there would be a timeframe, which is now being modified.”
But Fugazi, Jobrack and Councilmember Susan Lenz all said the moratoriums served have served their purpose and now needs to come to an end.
“The original intention of the eviction moratorium was 100% to protect people from the impacts of COVID-19, and that was three years ago,” Jobrack said. “I read market trends, I read unemployment rates, I read everything, and I haven’t seen anything that would support a lack of opportunity and jobs locally. … It’s hard to go by very many businesses and not see a ‘Now Hiring’ sign out front.”
He also pointed to the significant support that went “above and beyond” to help renters during the pandemic, that most areas have already done away with eviction moratoriums and that these moratoriums are putting an undue burden on landlords that is no longer necessary.
“It should come to no surprise to folks out there who haven’t paid rent in three years or haven’t paid rent for a long period of time that this policy is going to come to an end,” Jobrack said. “It’s not the city’s responsibility to educate people on what they have to do to make their rent whole.”
Wrights motion to push back the moratoriums’ end date was ultimately shot down in a 4-3 vote, with Wright and Warmsley joined by Councilmember Paul Canepa voting in the affirmative and Lenz, Jobrack, Fugazi and Mayor Kevin Lincoln in the negative. The original ordinance to end the moratoriums in February passed by the same margin.