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Sonoma County moves to strengthen eviction ban, paid sick leave policy

Posted on February 13, 2021 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Two urgency ordinances were approved by the Board of Supervisors to support Sonoma County residents who 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.

“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, board chair, after Tuesday’s actions. ‘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.”

The Covid-19 Eviction Defense Urgency Ordnance was 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. The ordinance automatically applies to both incorporated and unincorporated areas of Sonoma County, although cities may elect to establish their own ordinance.

The board’s second action Tuesday was unanimous approval of 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.

The recent ordinance does not create a new allotment of leave hours.

A board summary stated, “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.”

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