Working Through COVID-19

To Our Dear Clients and Colleagues,

After this unprecedented week, we write in the hopes that our guidance may steady your course and in the knowledge that simply hearing from a friend will brighten spirits. These are scary and uncertain times, but they will end, and we can plan now to recover healthy and strong.

We write this remotely – our team members scattered across the Bay Area, sheltered in our respective homes. Undeterred, Chandni brought home our internet phone switch board to route your calls directly to each of us, while Mary, Emma, Julie, Angelica and Quitania manage, coordinate and enable us to continue to deliver the highest quality of service to our clients. Here’s what we know for now.

How We Got Here

Beginning as distant rumor and speculation, COVID-19 has now spread worldwide, threatening our economy and our way of life. On March 4th, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in California, triggering price and eviction controls.

Local governments issued similar orders to protect their citizens. On February 25th, Mayor London Breed declared a local emergency, empowering her to issue a moratorium on evictions where the tenant cannot pay rent because of a "COVID-19 related impact ", on March 13th.

On March 16, 2020, the Superior Court of California began issuing orders continuing civil trials other than unlawful detainer cases, and on March 18, 2020, facing a deluge of emergency motions by tenant attorneys, San Francisco Superior Court stayed all unlawful detainer cases for 90 days.

Where We Are

A state of emergency declaration triggers certain measures to stabilize housing and markets. When Gov. Newsom made his declaration on March 4th, certain price stabilization measures went into effect. Specifically, landlords may not increase rent more than 10% above the pre-declaration prices, nor can they terminate tenancies for the purpose of re-renting to new tenants at such a higher price.

These restrictions run for 30 days from the declaration, however Gov. Newsom extended the timeline through May 31st by executive order, and encouraged local governments to suspend evictions for foreclosure and non-payment of rent because of a COVID-19 loss of income.

Meanwhile, Mayor Breed’s moratorium already prohibited evictions based on a tenant’s non-payment of rent. For a period of 30 days (currently expiring April 12th, but with the possibility of extension), tenants who suffered a COVID-19-based loss of income may avoid eviction, provided that they:

(1) Notify their landlord within 30 days after their rent is due of their inability to pay because of COVID-19;

(2) Provide documentary evidence supporting their claim within 7 days of the above notice.
The tenant may then have one month after the order expires to pay the rent that is due (although, they may continue to seek one-month extensions for six additional months after the order expires).
If your tenant has notified you of an inability to pay rent, please feel free to contact us to assist with securing their future payment.

"Unlawful detainer" cases are stayed through June 16th. This means that San Francisco Superior Court will not be allowing trials, motions or even discovery. This stay order does not apply to evictions resulting from violence, threats of violence, or health and safety issues. And neither the stay order nor the state of emergency declarations prevent the service of termination notices (other than based on price gouging or rent demands). Other courts and municipalities around the state are taking similar approaches, which we are monitoring.

Some government agencies, such as the San Francisco Planning Department and Board of Appeals, have largely remained open and are working remotely. Others, such as the Department of Building Inspection, are responsive but focusing on high-priority projects. We are escalating our clients’ applications as needed to ensure they are appropriately prioritized.

Where We Go from Here

We first consider the stress and struggle of our clients, our team and even our adversaries. We have encouraged and agreed to reasonable proposals to deescalate conflict while everyone gets their bearings. For our landlord clients, we have counseled that tenants can only agree to buyout agreements and other settlement negotiations if they can find a new home. While patient, we persist in resolving other details and asking for specific commitments to advance negotiations.

Even everyday landlord-tenant interactions must embrace these novel circumstances. We have developed up-to-date forms and letters for maintenance access issues (like a tenant’s refusal to allow access because of COVID-19). We have also developed agreements to maximize landlords’ ability to recover rents as matters return to normal.

For owners eager to occupy their own property, we continue to curate and adjust tenancies and ownership documentation to prepare for deploying notices, while we press forward with negotiations. Just because we can proceed in terminating tenancies at this time does not necessarily mean we should, but we are evaluating and counseling on a case-by-case basis.

For our clients in other litigation, we continue to manage your case, making reasonable agreements with opposing parties to advance matters when we can and preserve the status quo when needed. We are making productive use of this time for you.

While we are working out-of-office, we continue to work for you. We use the latest technology, including virtual meetings to stay connected to our clients and colleagues. If we can make any special accommodations for you at this time, please do not hesitate to let us know.

If you have questions, we’re just a phone call or email away, just like we always are. And if you aren’t already in contact with one of our dedicated attorneys, please feel free to contact us at 415.956.8100 or [email protected].

Above all, stay safe and healthy. You can find recommendations from the San Francisco Department of Public Health along with up-to-date information on coronavirus news. You can also call 311 and sign up for the City’s alert service for official updates: text COVID19SF to 888-777.