Californians behind on their rent payments have until March 31 to apply for the state’s COVID rent relief program, officials announced last week.

The state will help tenants with unpaid rent and utilities owed from April 1, 2020 through March 31, 2022. Landlords can also get reimbursed for an eligible renter’s unpaid rent.

Eligible households may get up to 18 months of assistance to cover rent debt accrued during the pandemic.

Last week, Los Angeles County officials urged tenants and landlords to apply before the deadline.

The Census Bureau estimates that hundreds of thousands of L.A. area tenants live in households that are behind on rent but have not applied for assistance.

“If these households do not receive help, many could lose their housing, worsening the region’s homelessness crisis,” L.A. City officials said.

How do you apply?

Tenants can still apply on their own and get assistance for their unpaid rent. Those in need of help can apply online at housing.ca.gov

Those who need help can call 833-430-2122 for additional information.

Since some local jurisdictions have their own programs on their websites, use this map to find the correct link to apply.

Who qualifies?

To qualify, tenants’ household income must be at or below 80% of the Area Median Income for their county.

So in L.A. County, the income limit would be $66,250 for an individual to apply, or $102,200 for a household of five. (The state’s website calculates while you’re filling out the application.)

Tenants also have to attest that they suffered a financial hardship related to COVID-19. Hardships could include loss of income caused by the pandemic, increased health expenses related to COVID-19, or child care responsibilities.

While applicants won’t need to show evidence of hardship, they have to sign a declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress.

Income-eligible applicants can qualify for the assistance regardless of immigration status.

Landlords with renters who are behind on their rent and need financial assistance may apply for the COVID-19 Rent Relief program, if the income-eligible renters verify that they meet eligibility requirements and sign the application.

All payments landlords receive must be used to satisfy the renter’s unpaid rent.

What’s needed to apply?

For tenants, just one of the following is needed:

  • A 2020 tax return
  • 2020 W-2 and 1099-G if the tenant was unemployed
  • Current pay stubs
  • Proof of participation in a state or federal subsidy program such as CalFresh or CalWORKS (like an acceptance or renewal letter).

For those also applying for help with utility bills, they’re going to need to submit invoices or statements for any unpaid utility, trash or internet bills after April 1, 2020.

State officials recommend that tenants notify their landlord once they have applied for rental assistance, which can help in both eviction and rental debt collection lawsuits.

For landlords, they must submit all of the following:

  • A lease or rental agreement reflecting renter’s name, residence address and monthly rent due
  • Rent ledger or rent statement showing the balance of unpaid rent from April 1, 2020
  • W-8 or W-9 (for tax purposes)

How many people have applied so far?

As of Tuesday, more than 489,000 households in California have applied for rent assistance and just about 214,000 of them have been served, according to the Housing is Key website.

Applicants are getting an average of $11,488 in assistance.

In L.A. County, more than 241,000 people have applied and less than half have been served.

The program has received criticism for being slow in doling out payments.

A study of state data by the National Equity Atlas found that thousands of applicants are still waiting to hear if they will receive assistance.

“At the current rate of approvals, some will still be waiting for a decision at Thanksgiving,” the study’s authors wrote.

The study also found that about 740,000 renter households in California owed their landlords an estimated $3.5 billion in back rent at the beginning of February 2022. 

California Department of Housing and Community Development director said the program has sped up payments over recent months.

“We have accelerated the pace and number of payments week over week since the beginning of the program a year ago today,” said HCD Director Gustavo Velasquez. “Just last week, nearly 9,000 households were assisted, amounting to more than $81 million in rent and utility assistance.”

The program has paid out more than $2.46 billion so far, according to the Housing is Key website.

It is estimated that by the time the program ends, the state will have distributed more than $4 billion in assistance to help keep renters in their homes, according to the housing department.

When will evictions resume?

California eviction protections are in place through March 31, unless local jurisdictions have extended protections.

The city of L.A. has an eviction moratorium in place until at least until April 1, 2023.

L.A. County also has its own tenant protections.