The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to extend an urgency ordinance that temporarily prohibits and suspends commercial evictions that arise from a substantial loss of income related to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The businesses that have been able to survive very tenuously to this point may be in very difficult circumstances in the very near future,” board chairman Gregg Hart said. “The point of having this protection is to give them every opportunity they can to survive and keep people employed.”
The initial ordinance was set to expire Wednesday, and the board voted to extend the deadline for commercial evictions through Jan. 31.
Under the urgency ordinance, a commercial tenant cannot be evicted as long as they provide written notice to the owner, demonstrate that their failure to pay rent is because of COVID-19, and pay 25 percent of each rental payment on or before Jan. 31, according to Rachel Van Mullem, chief assistant to the county counsel.
The substantial loss of income must arise from cut hours or wages, layoffs or substantial medical expenses related to COVID-19 and must be demonstrated by objectively verifiable means.
The urgency ordinance does not relieve the tenant’s obligations to pay rent or restrict the landlord’s ability to recover rent due in the future.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued Executive Order N-28-20 that suspended the preemption of the county’s ability to prohibit residential and commercial evictions, according to Van Mullem. With that suspension, the county adopted an urgency ordinance that temporarily prohibits residential and commercial evictions, she said.
On Sept. 23, Newsom signed Executive Order N-80-20, which extended the previous order to authorize the county to temporarily prohibit commercial evictions through March 31.
Hart and Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino asked that the proposed urgency ordinance for commercial tenants be consistent with the protections for residential tenants, Tenant Relief Act AB 3088.
“Our focus was to provide commercial tenants with protections parallel to what AB 3088 provides to residential tenants,” Hart said.
Consistent with the Tenant Relief Act, the urgency ordinance for commercial tenants will be effective through Jan. 31.
The proposed ordinance was met with wary and contempt by some of the other district supervisors. Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam said the ordinance was unnecessary.
“You may want to put a Band-Aid on, but the root cause of this is our failure to open,” he said. “I don’t believe that there’s adequate evidence to support the continuation of the shutdown policy. That’s the problem.”
Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said she was worried that there are people abusing the ordinance.
“While this is a lifeline for many people, there are some who are abusing it,” she said.
However, if a tenant does provide objectively verifiable documentation showing substantial loss of income, they will be protected, Van Mullem said.
Ultimately, the board voted 4-1, with Adam in opposition, to pass the extension of the urgency ordinance.
“We’re having to do the best we can to provide a path for people to stay in business,” Hart said. “I think this is an incremental, small but important step to do that.”