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Evictions, Utility Shutoffs Continue In California During Coronavirus Outbreak

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- Last week, the Bay Area received an order to shelter-in-place in the comfort of our own homes, which for many has been rather uncomfortable, especially if you're now worried about how to pay for where you're supposed to stay put.

"Trust and believe I'm pretty nerve wracked right now," Richard Reynolds said.

Reynolds just lost his roofing job. He was working on a new Facebook building in Santa Clara county, but the work has been deemed non-essential, so Reynolds was sent home.

"They told us because of the pandemic we are not able to return to work until April 7th, that's too much of a gap to even be able to pay rent," Reynolds said.

He's been homeless before. It was this job that helped him get off the street.

ALSO READ: San Francisco Mayor Issues Moratorium on Evictions During Coronavirus Crisis

"We would really like to see a full rent and mortgage holiday so that payments are reduced to zero," Brad Hirn with the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco said.

Hirn and the HRC are pushing for more protections for tenants like Reynolds on a statewide level, including direct financial assistance, rent and mortgage holidays, and a full stop on all evictions and foreclosures.

"These kinds of things just become sensible in a crisis and they should be viewed as sensible to ensure that there is no economic impact on people right now when they're struggling to survive," Hirn said.

ALSO READ: Coronavirus Update: Gov. Newsom Issues Executive Order To Protect Renters, Homeowners

President Trump called for a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures for single family homeowners affected by COVID-19. California Governor Newsom called for a moratorium on evictions, but left policy implementation up to local leaders.

The cities of San Francisco, San Jose, Berkeley and the county of San Mateo have put a moratorium on evictions in place. The city of San Mateo, along with Hayward, Oakland, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz have plans in the works to issue similar orders.

One advocacy group is mapping it out for tenants city by city: the Anti-eviction Mapping Project highlights where tenant protections have been put in place, but most ordinances only help people who can prove the eviction is a direct result of COVID-19. That means evictions in many parts of California are still being carried out from before the pandemic, so lawyers still have had to crowd into court.


"I have to come to court, I have to deal with opposing counsel, I have to deal with other clients and I can't stay at home and shelter like I'm being directed to by the public health officer of the city," said Tyler Rougeau, a lawyer with the Tenderloin Housing Clinic.

"Every single time someone has to come to court to defend themselves against an eviction, they are putting not just themselves, but the entire community at risk," said Martina Cucullu Lim, the executive director of the Eviction Defense Collaborative.

Cucullu Lim and Rougeau are celebrating one victory, though. Evictions have been stayed for 90 days in San Francisco due to the pandemic. They were hoping the Chief Justice will declare a holiday and close the courts, so that evictions can't be filed during this time, even if they aren't being carried out. On Monday, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye ordered all jury trials in the state superior courts suspended for 60 days in light of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Alameda and Contra Costa Counties have also closed the courts.

"We just should not be having evictions during this time," San Francisco Supervisor Dean Preston said. He has been working to shut down what he calls the eviction machine.

"What does that say about our judicial system right now, that they think it's so urgent to be moving forward and evicting people? That makes no sense," Preston said.

ALSO READ: Newsom Warns Of Dramatic Rise In Coronavirus Cases Among The Homeless

Advocates are also asking for a moratorium on utility shutoffs, but that didn't help Oscar Gomez.

"It's just frustrating. Why, why, why are we dealing with this right now?" Gomez asked. His landlord shut off his water last week for three days, for four hours a day, to perform what the company calls "necessary adjustments" to avoid sewage backups. Gomez worries this type of work will continue during the shelter-in-place order.

"I have a 74-year-old neighbor who's immunocompromised, who's totally anxious and people have kids, and it's kind of overwhelming. The uncertainty is frustrating and now something as simple as running water in my apartment is frustrating," Gomez said.

Advocates say they think the governor intended for these protections to be put in place all along.

"I do believe that the leadership has the best interest of the community in mind, and this is an unintended consequence that we're facing right now," Cucullu Lim said.

ALSO READ: Rep. Barbara Lee Introduces Bill To Prohibit Landlords From Evicting Tenants During Coronavirus Pandemic

The fear is that if the laws aren't specific enough, people will start to fall through the cracks. For people like Richard Reynolds, that raises anxiety, especially with April's rent payment just one week away.

"I'm just trying to figure out how I can keep my roof over my head right now, and not being able to pay rent, I don't see how that's possible," he said.

State Assembly Member Phil Ting plans to file a bill that would go further than the governor's order. It would freeze all evictions statewide and extend a moratorium for a year.

If you're someone who cannot pay bills during this time or need legal advice there are resources and advocates who can help, a few examples include:

Landlords can reach out to Daniel Bornstein Law Offices.

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