Property Rights

L.A.'s Eternal Eviction Moratorium

Now that the pandemic is fading and much of the available rent relief has been spent, L.A.'s eviction moratorium seems like pure regulatory inertia.


By this spring, nearly all the eviction moratoriums imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic had ended, either because courts blocked them or because legislators repealed them or allowed them to expire. One conspicuous exception was Los Angeles, where tenants were still protected from eviction by the city's ongoing state of emergency.

L.A.'s moratorium, one of the strictest and most open-ended such policies in the U.S., is a major headache for landlords. David Greenhut is an owner of eight rent-stabilized properties in Los Angeles, totaling 221 units. As of late March, Greenhut says, he had 40 tenants who were not paying rent. He also complains that he is not allowed to evict tenants who blare music or who won't allow pest control into their homes.

The city's moratorium bars eviction for nonpayment or nuisances, provided either is related to COVID-19. It allows those tenants to self-certify that they have been affected by the pandemic. Landlords therefore have few means of removing people who game the system.

"If there is fraud, there's nothing [the landlord] can do," says Greenhut, who estimates that he is owed about $700,000 in back rent. Rising operating costs and the city's rent freeze for rent-stabilized units—another feature of the eviction moratorium—have forced Greenhut to take out loans to keep his business afloat.

The association representing L.A. landlords has sued the city over its eviction moratorium, including the provision that says a tenant's unverified claims are enough to qualify for protection. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a similar provision in New York's eviction moratorium violated the right to due process. But even if the courts provide relief from L.A.'s eviction moratorium, landlords have already suffered two years of financial damage.

In the early days of COVID-19, moratoriums were pitched as necessary to allow unemployed people to safely shelter in place. The bans then became a time-buying measure that would allow federally funded rent relief to reach renters in need. Now that the pandemic is fading, job openings are hitting record levels, and much of the available rent relief has been spent, L.A.'s eviction moratorium seems like pure regulatory inertia.

That is to be expected. Every temporary measure creates beneficiaries who have an incentive to fight for its extension even when the original justifications for it no longer apply. Politicians, meanwhile, don't want to be blamed for the sudden disappearance of a benefit to which people have become accustomed. L.A. politicians jumped on a tiger, and now they don't know how to get down.