SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio City Council rejected adding another 60 days into the eviction process meant to help keep renters in their homes by a 5-6 vote Thursday.
The addition of a “notice of proposed eviction” 60 days before issuing a “notice to vacate” was meant to give residential renters impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic a chance to pay any rent they owe before the eviction process begins. Austin and Dallas have passed similar ordinances.
District 1 Councilman Roberto Trevino had pushed for the idea and said following the vote that it was “unknown” what will happen when the current moratorium on evictions ends.
“We’ll continue to push for more money in the Risk Mitigation Fund," Trevino said, referring the fund the council massively expanded into the $25 million COVID-19 Emergency Housing Assistance Program. "But that’s the funding side of it. We were fighting for more time. And, you know, it’s unfortunate it didn’t prevail today, but we’ll keep fighting.”
Mayor Ron Nirenberg, District 6 Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda, District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval, and District 9 Councilman John Courage also supported the vote.
Dissenting council members, though, were concerned about the possibility of a lawsuit, especially in the midst of the city’s own budget crisis because of the pandemic.
“I do not want another lawsuit because the city cannot afford one, both literally and figuratively,” said District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran.
District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez, who is an attorney, said “quite simply, state law preempts us from doing this.”
No lawsuits have been filed against other cities with similar measures, he said, because the moratorium on evictions have prevented any landlords from being harmed yet.
“There is no reason to file suit yet,” Pelaez said. “But the first time somebody files suit to evict (a) tenant, and a (Justice of the Peace) says ‘sorry, you haven’t complied with a municipal ordinance,’ we’re going to get sued. Dallas is going to get sued. Austin is going to get sued. San Antonio is going to get sued, and we’re going to lose. I’d rather win.”
Numerous landlords also spoke against the idea Thursday, worried an additional two months without payment could stretch their own finances even tighter.
"With the stroke of a pen, you will make me bankrupt," Karen Fisher told council members.
Michael Wheeler, who owns 37 units with his wife, told council members “responsible” tenants are working with landlords to pay when they can. The ordinance, he said, would help “irresponsible” tenants.
“From our experience, the majority of tenants allowed 60 days before receiving termination of occupancy would use this time to live for free and move out just prior to the eviction court date.”
Courage provided an amendment that would have applied the ordinance only while there is money in the COVID-19 Emergency Housing Assistance Program and the resident had applied for it. The council has expressed interest in adding more money into the program, which has roughly $13 million remaining out of an original $25 million budget.
Cabello Havrda proposed an amendment to change the grace period from 60 days to 30 days, but it failed 5-6 along the same lines.The 60-day period would have applied to renters who have lost income or incurred delinquent payments because of the pandemic, but it does not require any documentation to prove non-payment was related to COVID-19.
The ordinance would not have waived late payments, and any eviction proceedings started before the ordinance took effect would not have been affected.
City Attorney Andy Segovia noted that the Justice of the Peace Courts would have had to determine whether a failure to comply with the ordinance would hold up an eviction process. The city does not have the authority to intervene, he said.
The Texas Supreme Court and Bexar County have already put a halt on eviction proceedings until May 18 statewide and until June 1 for the county. Landlords may still issue “notices to vacate” and file eviction suits, but they won’t be heard at the moment.
About half of San Antonio rental properties are also covered by a 120-day moratorium on evictions through the CARES Act. Under the moratorium, rental properties that receive federal housing funds may not even file a notice to vacate until after July 24.
If a renter is unable to pay their rent, the city is urging landlords refer them to the COVID-19 Emergency Housing Assistance Program at sanantonio.gov/emergencyhousingassistance or by calling 210-207-5910.
Bexar County has its own assistance program, and renters at properties outside the San Antonio city limits but within Bexar County can contact the Housing Authority of Bexar County at habctx.org/TRAM or by calling 210-940-1180.