For most people, rent is due the first of the month. The city of Fresno passed an ordinance that allows renters to cite the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason for not paying rent this month, but the burden of proof is on the tenant.
Since mid-March, over a million Californians have filed unemployment claims, and Fresno State Sociology Department lecturer Janine Nkosi said that doesn’t bode well for renters.
“So many people, prior to the pandemic, were one unexpected life event away from being in jeopardy of not being able to make all or part of their rent,” said Nkosi. She’s been collecting data on evictions in Fresno and around the San Joaquin Valley.
So with rent due, she has this advice for those who can’t pay: “They should notify their landlord in writing, immediately.” She said the letter has to be time-stamped (for example, an email) and should give specific reasons explaining why a tenant can’t pay. Nkosi has even put together sample language to help tenants write the letter in English and Spanish.
If necessary, Nkosi also suggested seeking legal support.
Despite the city of Fresno’s emergency ordinance, a landlord can still issue a three day pay or quit notice. The ordinance also clarifies that missed rent is still owed within six months.
“It’s still allowing evictions to happen, but tenants can protect themselves from eviction if they have the right documentation,” said Amber Crowell, a sociology professor at Fresno State who’s also been conducting research into evictions.
Crowell added that many evictions are informal. Tenants would prefer not to go through the legal system, so they leave after receiving notice.
Fresno’s executive order is in effect until April 18; however, the city can choose to extend it.