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Unpaid back rent in greater LA market could exceed $1B, study says

Amid new renter protections enforced by the City of Los Angeles, delinquent tenants in the greater Los Angeles market have amassed an estimated $1 billion in unpaid back rent. According to the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles is one of the few cities in California to extend pandemic-era protections that prevent some evictions.

Based on Census surveys, National Equity Atlas estimates that unpaid back rent across the greater Los Angeles area could exceed $1 billion, but it is uncertain whether the figures include Los Angeles County or a five-county region outside the city. National Equity Atlas is a collaboration between PolicyLink, an Oakland-based organization, and the USC Equity Research Institute.

To prevent a potential wave of evictions when the pandemic eviction moratorium ended, the City of Los Angeles expanded renter protections in January. These included renewing a rent freeze on rent-controlled apartments until next year, extending a prohibition on evicting tenants for unauthorized pets or occupants in their apartments, and expanding universal “just-cause” eviction protections to hundreds of thousands of apartments and single-family homes. This prevents landlords from arbitrarily evicting tenants unless there was unpaid rent, documented lease violations, owner move-ins, or other specific reasons. The provision starts after six months or when a lease expires, whichever comes first.

“As we work to bring Angelenos inside, we also have to work to prevent Angelenos from falling into homelessness,” Mayor Karen Bass said last month about the renter protections.

According to the Journal, California landlords, who have sued local governments over eviction laws, argue that there is no longer any pandemic justification for many renter protections. Some tenants have taken advantage of the laws as an excuse not to pay rent, straining small operators who may own only one or a handful of units.

While landlords can now evict most tenants in Los Angeles who fail to make multiple rent payments, the court process can take many months. As a result, some landlords have found it easier to forgive rent debts just to get tenants to leave. Property manager Scott Brody, who oversees a portfolio of 3,500 apartments in the city, told the newspaper that he has even paid delinquent tenants cash to vacate.