Coronavirus; Tenant who lost job due to COVID-19 given 3 days to pay rent by landlord; eviction feared

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. -- A Northern California woman who lost her job due to the novel coronavirus pandemic told her landlord she wouldn't be able to pay this month's rent. She says the landlord responded by threatening her with eviction. An attorney tells us that eviction isn't likely to happen anytime soon, but it's still causing some anxious moments for the tenant.

Shamitha Johnson doesn't know how much longer she'll live at her Walnut Creek apartment of four years.

About one month ago, she lost her job as a receptionist when the outpatient clinic she worked at switched to telephone and video visits due to COVID-19.

She wrote her landlord a letter explaining the situation.

"I'll be more than happy to pay my rent, but at this moment, I have to choose between eating food or housing," Johnson said.

The landlord sent her a three-day notice to pay the rent or move out.

The property manager at Quail Hill Apartments told 7 On Your Side it has every intention of working with Johnson, saying, "We're not somebody who will hang somebody out to dry."

Still, Johnson says she's suffering panic attacks.

With tears flowing down her cheeks, she said, "I have a roof over my head and I have food to eat, but I don't know how long that's going to be."

Attorney Jacqueline Ravenscroft says her firm has been contacted by dozens of tenants in similar situations as Johnson. She says these tenants have time.

"They probably can legally stay in their unit without an eviction for between six and 12 months actually," says Ravenscroft.

The Judicial Council which oversees the state court system recently ruled that no eviction or foreclosure case can proceed until 90 days after the governor lifts the current state of emergency.

Given the court's current backlog, Ravenscroft predicts it could be months before a case is heard.

She called the three-day notice misleading.

"It's giving the tenant the impression the landlord has the right to file an eviction right now if the tenant doesn't pay. And that's simply not the case," she said.

This gives Johnson some hope.

"So I'm just living day by day. I'm just trying to keep calm and not panic," Johnson said.

No statistics are available on the number of eviction requests filed, but Contra Costa County courts tells us there's been no noticeable uptick since the pandemic.

For more news coverage on the coronavirus and COVID-19 go to ABC30.com/coronavirus
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