The winding down of Covid emergency rules mean the end of most masking orders. But one consequential protection remains in place: the city’s moratorium on evictions because of pandemic-related financial and health hardship.
An ordinance passed by the Board of Supervisors last year protects tenants in perpetuity for eviction for nonpayment of rent due to the pandemic between July 1, 2022, and whenever the Mayor London Breed ends the proclamation of emergency that has been in place since February 2020.
The legislation also prohibits landlords from imposing late fees, penalties or similar charges on tenants who are unable to pay their post-July 2022 rent due to Covid.
But therein lies a source of confusion.
Although the vast majority of the mayoral and public health directives tied to the pandemic have been rolled back or terminated, the city itself still remains under a mayoral state of emergency.
No one has a definitive answer on when exactly the local emergency proclamation will end—the status plays an important role in how the city gets federal reimbursement for Covid relief—but there is a likely deadline of May 11, when the Biden administration plans to end the federal state of emergency.
“The mayor’s state of emergency is distinctly different than the public health state of emergency and will continue into the next few months for a limited purpose for facilitating some reimbursement and allow an orderly wind-down of shared spaces,” said Parisa Safarzadeh, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office.
Molly Goldberg, the director of the San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition, said the protections acted as an “affirmative defense” for renters facing eviction proceedings and she expects a wave of eviction filings when the moratorium ends.
Kyle Smeallie, chief of staff for Supervisor Dean Preston, who introduced the eviction moratorium ordinance, said his office is working on legislative solutions to create a “wind-down period” for tenants facing potential eviction past the end of the proclamation.
That wind-down could be similar to that of Alameda County’s Covid eviction moratorium, which provides a 60-day transitional period after the end of the emergency declaration. Some municipalities have decided to go even further.
Berkeley, for example, voted Monday to extend its moratorium until the end of August. Activists are pushing for similar extensions in Hayward and San Leandro.
Local eviction moratoriums have come under criticism from some property owners, who said that tenants have taken advantage of the protections and created financial hardship for landlords. A handful have been taking drastic measures, including hunger strikes to make their point to the public.
Smeallie said that a wind-down period is important to ensure that the San Francisco Emergency Rental Assistance Program—the city’s local rental relief fund—can be fully deployed to help renters. That fund has much wider eligibility than the Covid eviction protections.
“We still have tens of millions of unspent rent relief money,” Smeallie said. “What we want to make sure is that as certain protections are expiring, we’re giving the city and the renters enough time to wrap up any sort of reimbursement or rent relief while we have the money.”
The portal for tenants to access those funds has been suspended since September due to what city officials said was a “large backlog of pending applications.” The fund still provided emergency rental assistance for those facing eviction in court on a case-by-case basis.
Anne Stanley, communications manager for the Mayor’s housing office, said the rental relief fund has served more than 6,070 households in San Francisco with more than $47.2 million in financial assistance.
That leaves around $24 million left in the fund when the application portal is slated to reopen “in the coming weeks,” Stanley said.
Kevin Truong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org