During a special teleconference meeting on Monday, the Eureka City Council unanimously passed an urgency ordinance that temporarily bans evictions of tenants who cannot pay rent due the COVID-19 emergency.
The ordinance offers protection for tenants who have lost income due to becoming ill or caring for a family member who is ill with the virus, a layoff or reduction in hours due to the emergency response, or because they must stay home to care for children.
The council’s decision follows Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order — which runs through May 31 — halting evictions for those who cannot pay rent due to the coronavirus pandemic. Newsom authorized local governments to issue moratoriums on evictions earlier this month. But concerned that not enough cities were following through, the governor issued the statewide moratorium.
Though tenants are already offered protection through the governor’s order, Eureka City Attorney Bob Black pointed out, the council can offer more protections through the local ordinance.
Several council members were in favor of extending the protection to commercial tenants, who are not specifically covered by the governor’s order. The council also discussed adding language which prohibits landlords from imposing late fees during this period.
As written, the ordinance allows tenants up to 180 days after the ordinance expires on May 31 to pay back all past-due rent. However, there were some concerns about the length of that time period and the effect it may have on landlords.
Councilmember Kim Bergel suggested the council consider changing the window to 90 days, the amount of time provided in Arcata’s evictions moratorium passed by the Arcata City Council last week.
Black recommended the council pass the ordinance as written and allow staff to draft a “clean-up bill,” adjusting some of the language, which the council could approve at a later meeting.
The ordinance also suspends the shut-off of water service for commercial or residential tenants due to non-payment during the COVID-19 emergency.
The council confirmed the existence of a local emergency and passed an urgency ordinance authorizing city employees to enforce the county’s Shelter-in-Place Order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Eureka Public Works Director Brian Gerving explained that police officers are already authorized to enforce orders and issue citations for non-compliance — such as people not sheltering in place, or non-essential businesses remaining open. The ordinance simply allows for other city employees to enforce the orders as well.
The council unanimously passed the ordinance, though some council members were concerned about determining which businesses provide essential services when enforcing the county’s orders.
“I just want to make sure that we continue to support both the health and the livelihood of our community,” Councilmember Heidi Messner said during the meeting. “Which means making sure people are complying but also we want to be careful not to shut down services that really are necessary or needed.”
The Eureka City Council will hold its regular meeting on Tuesday, April 7 at 6 p.m via teleconference.
You can watch Monday’s full meeting here.