On January 29, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 91, an emergency bill which extends statewide eviction protections for renters suffering financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

SB 91 continues the renter protections of AB 3088 - which were scheduled to expire on February 1 - through June 30, pausing evictions for all renters who attest that they are unable to pay full rent due to circumstances resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.  However, exceptions can still be made for just cause or health and safety reasons.

Additionally, the measure allows tenants who pay at least 25 percent of total rent owed between September 2020 and June 2021 to convert that amount from rental debt to civil debt, which cannot be used as grounds for an eviction.

SB 91 also creates a new rental assistance program targeted at tenants earning no more than 80 percent of the area median income - with priority given to tenants earning less than 50 percent of the area median income - as well as households which have been unemployed for at least 90 days prior to submitting an application.  Under the program, the State will use $2.6 billion in Federal funding to offer a rent subsidy paying landlords 80 percent of the total amount of rent owed between April 2020 and March 2021, if landlords agree to forgive the remaining 20 percent owed and not pursue evictions.  Alternatively, if a landlord declines to participate, tenants can apply for relief valued at 25 percent of back rent owed during the same period. 

The program will begin accepting applications by March 15.

Other provisions of SB 91 include restrictions on landlords from assigning or selling rental debt to third-party debt collectors, an extension of the "pay or quit" notice period from 3 to 15 days, and restrictions on late fees for renters who have attested financial hardship due to COVID-19.  Landlords are also required to notify all tenants who owe back rent about the availability of the assistance program by February 28.

Landlords will also receive extended protections for requests of mortgage forbearance through September 1 as a result of SB 91.

The adoption of SB 91 followed warnings of a looming eviction crisis should protections enacted at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic be lifted.  A report published in January by the Urban Institute estimates that more than 19 percent of California tenants are currently behind on their rent.