Irvine Should Help Renters Impacted by COVID-19: Ban Evictions and Rental Increases, Prohibit Unconscionable Lease Termination Fees, and Create an Emergency Rental Assistance Program

The deadly COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 100,000 Americans, including nearly 5,000 deaths out of more than 125,000 cases in California and nearly 200 deaths out of more than 7,000 cases in Orange County.

In addition, the economic shock of the pandemic has been devastating, causing billions of dollars in business losses and an unemployment rate of 16.3% nationally and nearly 25% in California.

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As a result, our pre-existing California housing crisis has been exacerbated, with increases in our already much too high levels of homelessness and housing insecurity.

Faced with these tremendous COVID-19-related challenges regarding incomes, jobs, and housing, many of the residents of our City -– more than half of whom are renters — are pleading with the Irvine City Council to protect them. So far, we are failing them.

I have repeatedly asked my colleagues on the Irvine City Council to take action to help renters, but my requests for real help for our renters have been rejected. In March, not one other member of the City Council supported my motion to order an enforceable moratorium on evictions and rent increases.

More recently, my attempt to have the City Council order an enforceable moratorium on evictions and rent increases was rejected on a 3-2 vote, with each of my Republican colleagues voting No.

Mayor Christina Shea and her Republican majority on the City Council have claimed that our renter residents do not need these protections. But we know from thousands of emails, social media posts, and demonstrations in the streets, that our renter residents are pleading with us for help in this crisis.

We should stop ignoring their voices and enact meaningful protections for renters immediately.

First, we need to (1) approve the basic protections that I called for in March and to order an enforceable moratorium on evictions and rent increases. Our renters are entitled to peace of mind about not being forced out of their homes because of the COVID19 crisis.

We also need to (2) prohibit unconscionable, and likely unlawful, lease termination fees.  Many people in Irvine, including students, have lost their jobs, and therefore their incomes, as a result of the COVID19 crisis. Yet I have been told by residents that lease termination fees charged by the Irvine Company have exceeded $15,000.

In addition, we should (3) create an Emergency Rental Assistance Program.  Even with a moratorium on evictions, paying back rent for many of our residents is a very high mountain to climb.  We should direct our City staff to develop an Emergency Rental Assistance Program. These programs have been enacted in other cities, including our neighboring city of Anaheim, to help residents through this unprecedented public health and economic crisis.

As city officials, we have the power and ability to help protect our residents, including renters, both student and non-student. I believe we also have the moral obligation to do so. We should do it now without any further delay.