The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday adopted two urgency ordinances to support Sonoma County residents who may have access to fewer resources during the pandemic. One amends the COVID‐19 Eviction Defense Urgency Ordinance to strengthen protections against evictions from residential property across the county. The other expands an urgency ordinance adopted in August that requires employers to grant employees up to 80 hours of paid sick leave benefits for various COVID-19 reasons. The new ordinance requires all employers in unincorporated areas to allow employees to use the same sick leave benefits that were previously protected.

“We cannot ignore the continuing nature of the COVID‐19 pandemic and the strain it puts on the health and finances of local residents,” said Lynda Hopkins, Chair of the Board of Supervisors.” These ordinances are essential – one further protects renters from losing their homes when they are unable to make rent due to hardships caused by COVID-19, and the other protects workers in the unincorporated area from having to go to work sick, because no one should have to choose between putting food on the table and potentially exposing their coworkers to COVID-19.”

COVID‐19 Eviction Defense Urgency Ordinance:

The eviction protections approved unanimously Tuesday are an amendment to the eviction protection ordinance approved by the Board of Supervisors on March 24, 2020. It includes Just Cause Limitations, which closes loopholes that could have been used by landlords to evict tenants for minor lease infractions. This applies to residents who are unable to pay rent for COVID-19-related reasons and those who are able to pay rent but may have other minor lease infractions.

For instance, without Just Cause Limitations, landlords would have been able to evict tenants who were not paying rent for COVID-19-related reasons for minor lease infractions such as an unauthorized sublet or having a pet.

The Just Cause Limitations does allow landlords to evict residents who are unable to pay rent for COVID-related reasons when there are demonstrable health and safety concerns or when a property is removed from the rental market. Under the adopted amendment, health and safety is described as violence, threats of violence, or when a tenant poses an imminent threat to the health or safety of another. Exposure or suspected exposure to COVID-19 cannot be used as an imminent threat to the health and safety of another for eviction purposes. Alternatively, a tenant can be evicted if the property is immediately being removed from the rental market or if the renter is “leaving the rental business” using the Ellis Act, the 1985 California state law that allows landlords to evict residential tenants if they plan to exit the rental market.

The ordinance automatically applies to both incorporated and unincorporated areas of Sonoma County, although cities may elect to establish their own ordinance. These new protections are intended to help Sonoma County residents stay in their homes to the greatest extent possible to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Further residential eviction protections may be on the horizon with the proposal of President Biden’s $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, which seeks to extend federal eviction and foreclosure moratoriums and continue applications for forbearance on federally guaranteed mortgages. The Biden proposal would also provide funding for legal assistance for households facing eviction or foreclosure and provide $30 billion in rental, energy and water assistance for families, in addition to the $25 billion already allocated by Congress for emergency rental assistance to meet the need for families.

Local COVID-19 Paid Sick Leave Ordinance Applicable to all Employees in the Unincorporated Areas of the County:

On Aug. 18, 2020, the Board of Supervisors adopted the Urgency Paid Sick Leave Ordinance, which addressed gaps in sick leave coverage. The ordinance ran concurrently with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which expired on Dec. 31, 2020, leaving large groups of Sonoma County residents without sick leave protection.

The newly adopted paid sick leave ordinance will expand paid sick leave coverage locally by requiring all employers in the unincorporated areas of the county to allow their employees to use up to 80 hours of paid leave benefits previously required under either the FFCRA or the local ordinance. Employees may use these benefits for various COVID-19 sick purposes and/or for the care of an immediate family member whose senior care provider or whose school or child care provider is closed or is unavailable due to COVID-19 reasons.

Employees in the unincorporated county will be able to use leave benefits to the extent they have not already exhausted their COVID-19 paid sick leave accruals during the pandemic. However, it should be noted that this most recent ordinance does not create a new allotment of leave hours.

This ordinance supports Sonoma County residents by ensuring that covered employees who are working in the unincorporated county can stay home and isolate if they are exposed to COVID-19, exhibiting symptoms or caring for an individual affected by COVID-19. Allowing employees to access supplemental paid sick leave benefits reduces the likelihood that people with COVID-19 will report to work, minimizing the risk of the spread of COVID-19.