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California is clawing back some COVID-19 rent relief it gave to tenants and landlords

Lindsey Holden, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in Home and Consumer News

California is demanding that thousands of tenants and landlords who were approved for emergency rental assistance during the pandemic return the money — often months after it has been spent — sometimes for vague or unspecified reasons.

The California Department of Housing and Community Development has sent “recapture” emails to about 5,400 tenants and landlords who received COVID-19 rent relief funds, the agency told The Sacramento Bee.

HCD gives aid recipients 30 to 90 days to send the money back, said Nur Kausar, HCD communications manager. The agency claims overpayment, tenants withholding funds from landlords and fraudulent activity are among the reasons they ask landlords and tenants to return their aid, Kausar said.

But lawyers suing HCD on behalf of needy tenants call the repayment requests “retroactive denials” and say asking for the money back is “outrageous and unfair.”

“These are tenants who went through the complicated and lengthy application process, submitted all their documents, and were approved to get help,” said Madeline Howard, a senior attorney for the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

“Then HCD turns around with no warning and tells the tenant they are denied, without explaining why, and demands the tenant pay back money they do not have anymore because they have paid it over to their landlord. This is both unlawful and profoundly unfair.”

 

Renters ‘devastated’ by repayment requests

In a court declaration, the leader of a Northern California nonprofit said tenants who have received notices to repay their relief funds are “devastated by this experience.”

“All of our clients are low-income and lack the means to repay the rental assistance they previously received and paid to their landlord,” said Amber Twitchell, associate director of Napa County nonprofit On the Move.

One of the tenants who received a repayment notice is a single mother who lost her husband to COVID-19 and had to find a new rental she could afford without his income, Twitchell said. She received $8,100 and “does not know how she will be able to come up with the money to repay the state.”

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