San Antonio City Council narrowly rejects Treviño's proposal to give renters 60 extra days to pay overdue rent

by Ben OlivoMay 14, 2020
Folo Media file photo

After a passionate debate Thursday, the City Council voted 6-5 to reject District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño's proposal that would have given tenants an extra 60 days to resolve overdue rent during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The vote was cast after dozens of landlords aired concerns about their properties going into foreclosure, or their businesses going bankrupt, should tenants get themselves in too big of a hole with overdue rent, or should some abuse the system and not pay at all. Council members who opposed the ordinance cited the prospect of lawsuits against the city, which City Attorney Andy Segovia warned was a possibility, as a primary argument against the ordinance.

In recent weeks, Treviño had been crafting the ordinance, saying it wouldn't absolve renters struggling with employment during the Covid-19 crisis of rent owned, but rather would grant them extra time to gather relief assistance from various sources, or find another job. On Thursday, the District 1 councilman quoted research by housing advocacy group Texas Housers that characterized 275,800 renters in 2018 in San Antonio as "working people," according its research of U.S. Census data.

"We are successfully flattening that curve, but the cost of that has been a peak to other curves: unemployment, homelessness, domestic violence, the need for food supplies, digital divide, along with many other misfortunes," Treviño said.

Voting against the measure were council members Adriana Rocha-Garcia, Clayton Perry, Jada Andrews-Sullivan, Manny Pelaez, Rebecca Viagran, and Shirley Gonzales. Voting in favor was Mayor Ron Nirenberg and council members Treviño, Ana Sandoval, John Courage and Melissa Cabello-Havdra.

If passed, Treviño's "right to cure" ordinance would have essentially placed an eviction moratorium at the city level as far as through Aug. 14 by requiring landlords to provide tenants with a "notice of proposed eviction" before they could issue a "notice to vacate," the beginning of the eviction process according to Texas law.

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Landlords 'are also worried about their jobs'

Fifty five people signed up to speak at the City Council meeting Thursday—52 landlords and real estate group advocates who opposed the ordinance, and three people who supported it—but not everyone spoke because they either ceded their time to another or they left early.

Only one person, Molly, a housing advocate who goes only by her first name, spoke in favor of the statute.

"The unfortunate reality in this city is that corporate apartment complexes and other landlords are determined not to suffer business losses as other business owners have, even if it means cut throating people's safety and the opportunity to affordable housing," she said.

The landlords painted a different picture: Most are offering repayment agreements to tenants who have lost their job or who have had hours reduced during the crisis, among other measures, they said. Some told stories of renters deliberately avoiding rent payments because evictions proceedings in Bexar County are currently suspended through June 1.

City officials estimate half of San Antonio’s rental properties—roughly 130,000—are protected from eviction under the CARES Act through July 24, because the properties received federal financing or subsidies.

Courtney Rosen, chief operating officer at MHN Property Management, said 90% of the nearly 200 homes she manages are owned by middle class people with one or two homes.

"Landlords are people who depend on the rent in order to pay the mortgage, and if they can't pay their mortgage that house is going to be foreclosed on and your renter that you're trying to protect will also be out on the street and everyone will lose," Rosen said.

Treviño said he had found 13 banks and credit unions that are offering payment suspensions or extensions and late fee waivers to homeowners for mortgage payments or small business loans during the pandemic.

"Property owners, including those of investment properties, are offered assistance similar to that which I am requesting we consider today," said Treviño, who represents District 1.

Kim Bragman, the San Antonio Board of Realtors 2020 chairman, said many property owners do not quality for federal mortgage forbearance, the temporary postponement of payments; and they still are obligated to pay property taxes.

During the debate, Courage, who represents District 9, attempted to amend the ordinance so that it was enforceable as long as there was funding in the city's $25 million Covid-19 Emergency Housing Assistance Program; and that both tenant and landlord should work together to apply for the assistance. If a tenant didn't qualify for the assistance—in other words, if they didn't lose their job—the 60-day protection wouldn't apply to them, Courage's amendment read.

"Please work with our city department, work with tenants (and) get what's due to you," Courage said, speaking directly to the landlords in the room. "Help people stay in their homes."

Assistant City Manager Lori Houston said $13 million remains from the overall $25 million the council approved three weeks ago.

Cabello-Havdra, who represents District 6, made a motion to reduce the extension's timeframe from 60 to 30 days.

Both Courage's and Cabello-Havdra's amendments failed.

[ For background on Treviño's ordinance, read: "Council to consider giving renters 60 extra days to resolve delinquent rent" ]

Legal matters

During the meeting, Segovia all but said he had, in closed session, recommended against the council adopting the statute.

"There are a number of potential challenges. One of them is state preemption," he said meaning that the ordinance would interfere with a contract, i.e. a lease, under state law.

When addressing enforcement of the ordinance, he said the city doesn't have independent authority to intervene in the eviction process, which is outlined at the state level and executed by the county's justice of the peace courts.

"The city attorney essentially convinced many council members that this would result in a lawsuit, and that's where their hesitancy was," Treviño said after the meeting.

Courage doubted Segovia's warnings and pointed to Austin and Dallas, where similar ordinances were passed recently, and where it appears no lawsuits have been filed.

Councilman Pelaez's countered Courage's remark by reminding everyone that the Texas Supreme Court has placed a moratorium on evictions through May 18.

"There's no reason to file suit, yet," Pelaez said.

In an interview last week, David Fritsche, the San Antonio Apartment Association's lawyer, said Treviño's ordinance would violate a landlord's constitutional rights at the federal and state levels, but wouldn't go into detail.

Notice of tenant's rights

One proposed city ordinance everyone embraces is called a "notice of tenant's rights," which would outline their rights under eviction law and offer housing assistance resources. The notice would also encourage tenants to communicate with the landlord to resolve any issue of delinquency through a payment plan.

The ordinance, which has not been passed by the council, was crafted by San Antonio Apartment Association, community organizer COPS Metro, among other groups, in conjunction with city attorneys. Landlords, in theory, would issue the tenant's rights notice at the same time as a notice to vacate, or potentially the day before.

Last month, the Apartment Association urged its members, which manages roughly 160,000 units in San Antonio, to forgive 25% of rent for tenants who receive assistance from the city's emergency fund. Houston said the association's gesture has resulted in 300 households receiving the 25% forgiveness, which amounts to $125,000 in funds saved that can be used to assist other families.

After the meeting, Treviño said he wholeheartedly supports the notice of tenant's rights. It's a drum he's been beating since ramped up the formation of a renters commission earlier this year, and last year when he helped San Antonio Housing Authority residents during their fight to change the agency's eviction policy.

"That's exactly why we wanted a renters commission," he said. "We've been pushing tenants' rights for a long, long time."

» San Antonio Housing Authority chips in $350K for rental assistance
» As eviction lawsuits dwindle, tenants may get 60 extra days to resolve overdue rent during coronavirus crisis
» Cost of living assistance balloons to $30M locally amid coronavirus
» As eviction lawsuits dwindle, tenants may get 60 extra days to resolve overdue rent during coronavirus crisis
» A commission of renters? In San Antonio, the debate rages early on
» Treviño: 'The renters commission is going to happen. I’m positive of that.'
» Number of people seeking housing assistance in San Antonio soared 6,700% last two weeks
» Landlords asked to forgive 25% rent for tenants impacted by coronavirus
» Evictions, property tax foreclosures in Bexar County suspended due to COVID-19 concerns
» Map: Where to pick up free breakfast and lunch while schools are closed for coronavirus
» How San Antonio’s taquerias are hurting during coronavirus outbreak
» Retailers close in compliance with coronavirus order, leaving downtown nearly lifeless
» Looking back: The week downtown San Antonio became a ghost town

Contact Ben Olivo at 210-421-3932 | | @rbolivo on Twitter

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