Watch CBS News

Monterey Co. approves limited eviction moratorium for residents impacted by recent floods

Pajaro residents return to flood-ravaged homes
Pajaro residents return to flood-ravaged homes 01:58

MONTEREY COUNTY – An eviction moratorium was unanimously passed by the Monterey County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday for unincorporated county residents impacted by flooding from atmospheric rainstorms in March.

The moratorium includes residential and commercial properties as well as mobile homes. It is effective immediately and runs through August but does not prevent rent from accruing. Tenants should still respond to any eviction papers they receive from a landlord who is unaware of, or ignoring, the county-wide moratorium.

The moratorium, passed by the board as an urgency ordinance, does not stop the eviction process as outlined in state law, but it will stop an eviction from actually being carried out if all of the requirements are met.

If a tenant does receive eviction papers, the eviction moratorium can and should be used as a defense, but needs to be submitted to the landlord properly, said Phyllis Katz, a legal advocate with California Rural Legal Assistance who spoke during the public comment period.

Katz said the legal aid group is preparing bilingual informational pamphlets, which will be distributed in the coming days in Pajaro, where many residents of the North Monterey County community still cannot live at home because of damage, ongoing health risks and lack of potable water from flooding caused by levee breaches there earlier this month.

Tenants must also notify their landlord that they will be delaying or withholding rent until they are able to pay back-rent. Notification should include an explanation of lost income attributed to storm impacts, which can include the closure of a child's school, a reduction of work hours or other lost income. Documentation of lost income needs to be submitted by the end of the moratorium but does not need to be included in the initial notice to landlords.

While the ordinance included an extension of the window for tenants to give landlords such notice to 15 days, the moratorium came up against provisions outlined in state law, which give landlords the right to give a tenant an eviction notice after three days of nonpayment of rent. In normal circumstances, a tenant has five days after receiving such a notice to make a payment, otherwise, a judge can initiate eviction proceedings against them.

In other words, the eviction process outlined in state law, which the county cannot override, has a shorter window than the 15 days the county wants to give tenants to notify landlords.

Sheriff Tina Nieto joined remotely by video and said that she supported the moratorium but her office could not ignore any lawful eviction notices. So, while the moratorium is a legal defense, the provisions in the local ordinance must be followed in order to prevent eviction.

About two dozen commenters online and in-person supported the moratorium and many urged supervisors to extend the temporary protection through the end of the year. The original draft ordinance lasted through June.

"People are going to be out of work, they're not going to miraculously come up with months and months of rent by the time June comes around," said Keisha Browder, CEO of United Way Santa Cruz County, via remote public comment.

Board chair Luis Alejo suggested amending the ordinance through August, which was unanimously accepted. It can be renewed at that time.

"If you drive to Pajaro now you will see the piles of people's valuable assets that are now out there as debris to be picked up, so there's tremendous loss, and many of the homes are not habitable and it is causing housing instability for many of the families in Pajaro and we needed this protection in light of the dire circumstances in that community," Alejo said.

Several community members who spoke also noted the importance of getting the information out to those who speak Spanish and Mixteco, the Indigenous language spoken by many residents of Pajaro.

"Even this meeting is not accessible for a lot of the community," said public commenter Maria Perez. She urged supervisors to continue outreach in the community in languages they can understand to explain the complexities of the moratorium.

A "soft launch" of a local resources center is expected Wednesday at the Watsonville Veterans Memorial Building, where recovery resources can be accessed. County officials are hoping to add staff and resources from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the center, but as of Tuesday were still at a loss to explain if FEMA would support impacted residents of Monterey County.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.