The Indio City Council has decided to reconsider establishing a timeline by which renters will have to pay past-due rent and fulfill other requirements related to the eviction process during the coronavirus pandemic.
Council members discussed Wednesday the various points at which they could intervene in tenant evictions and similar ordinances that have been adopted by other cities in the Coachella Valley.
They received feedback from 17 members of the public, who almost unanimously expressed support for the council to take further action to clarify how long renters will have to pay past-due rent.
Council member Oscar Ortiz said he would support a potential plan providing renters six months to pay, with no late fees or interest and that no provisions should be made for paying partial rent during that time.
Ortiz explained he had received calls from residents about being evicted and that it is the city’s duty to provide them with clarity on how repayment will be managed when local, county and state emergency orders are lifted.
Council member Waymond Fermon presented a similar idea, adding that the repayment plan should not extend past the term of the renter’s lease.
The state’s policymakers for the court system have established an order preventing eviction cases from being considered at the present. Gov. Gavin Newsom has also made related recommendations supporting bans on evictions. However, these orders have left much to be interpreted by local governments, including when past-due rent should be paid.
Several other cities in the Coachella Valley have established orders allowing renters six months to make payments.
Indio’s council members did not arrive at a consensus Wednesday.
Mayor Pro Tem Elaine Holmes said the city should revisit the issue and that in the meantime they should educate renters about the resources available to them and remind landlords that evictions are not being enforced at this time.
Council member Lupe Ramos Amith, however, asserted that the city has no business interfering in the lease agreements made between private parties and added that enough protections have been provided by the federal and state governments.
Amith told the other council members that a two-parent household receiving unemployment, with recent additional provisions and the federal stimulus check, could make as much as $4,800 a month.
“There’s no reason why anyone should be in default,” Amith said.
Ortiz and Fermin added that many of Indio’s residents are undocumented and are not provided with these resources.
Indio resident John Becerra said in public comment that there are plenty of good reasons why Indio residents are struggling and that more clarity should be provided to them.
“This is not a time to wait and see what other cities are doing,” Chris Martinez told the council. He said residents are in need, now.
City Manager Mark Scott requested the opportunity to put together a plan that could help Indio’s renters feel more assured that they “are not going to be left out in the cold, that they’re going to be taken care of.”
The council voted for him to do so. That plan could be considered during a special meeting in two weeks.
The city council also said they do not condone the recent re-opening of Mathis Brothers, a furniture store, which they stated is not an essential business according to state and county orders.
Scott said he is confident the business will not remain open in spite of the orders, adding that he believed the move was a mistake.
The council also passed an ordinance establishing the authority to issue citations for violations of health orders established by the city or county related to short term rentals, the operation of businesses not deemed essential and other orders.
The Indio Police Department’s code enforcement unit opened an investigation last week after a residential fire broke out at a home that may have been rented through a website running a “Shelter-in-place special” to determine if the house was rented in violation of regulations on vacation rentals during the pandemic.
The order establishes that violators could be charged up to $1,000.
Scott said the city will be enacting a more rigid code for short term rentals that will require evidence be presented to the city under penalty of perjury that a renter has a legitimate reason to rent.
“We are going to make sure that people who come in have evidence that they should be there,” Scott said.