EL CENTRO — Imperial County residents living in unincorporated areas who can show they have been hurt financially by COVID-19 cannot be evicted by landlords now for not being able to pay rent for at least the next two months.

The Imperial County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday adopted an uncodified emergency ordinance to establish a temporary prohibition during the COVID-19 pandemic on related evictions in the unincorporated area of the county.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom made a similar order last week, but his order allowed counties and municipalities to make their own emergencies more stringent.

Because this was an emergency item, four of the five supervisors had to vote for approval. All five supported the item.

The ordinance effect started immediately upon the supervisors’ vote to approve it. It will expire May 31 unless the supervisors terminate or extend it.

The county protections, which are stronger than the governor’s, allow small businesses affected by the pandemic to have a grace period of 120 days for them to pay any past due rent with no penalties.

Pandemic-related evictions for residential tenants and commercial tenants of small business will not be allowed.

Landlords will also not be allowed to charge late penalties against any amount of rent owed during the term of the ordinance and for a period of 120 days following its termination.

The ordinance will allow tenants time to provide documentation that they have experienced a loss of income or out-of-pocket medical expenses related to the virus at any time prior to execution of a judgment for possession of their rental unit to stop the eviction from proceeding.

It will also permit tenants to use the ordinance as an affirmative defense.

Imperial County Board of Realtors President James Garcia said when rent or payment of a monthly mortgage is not paid or a payment is missed, the landlord has to pay that bill because those payments do not just go away.

“It’s the owner’s responsibility,” Garcia said. “They need to contact the lender and work out an arrangement.”

A homeowner affected by the coronavirus needs to gather the details from the bank to determine what it means to them, he said.

Garcia stressed the No. 1 thing a homeowner needs to do is to contact the lender instead of not paying the monthly mortgage payments.

Five of the nation’s largest banks have already agreed to temporarily suspend residential mortgage payments for people affected by the coronavirus.

“From my experience everyone has their own policy,” Garcia said. “It’s important people follow through.”

While the ordinance does provide protections against evictions, it does not absolve tenants of the obligations to pay rent or restrict a landlord’s ability to recover rent due.

Staff Writer Michael Maresh can be reached at mmaresh@ivpressonline.com.

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