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Renters and business owners in Long Beach will soon be temporarily protected from evictions in certain circumstances amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The City Council voted unanimously at its Tuesday, March 24, meeting to approve an ordinance that will prohibit residential and commercial evictions if a renter or business owner has lost income because of the public health crisis and is unable to pay rent.

The temporary eviction ban, according to its official text, is an urgency ordinance set to take effect at midnight Wednesday.

The council also voted on it as a regular ordinance, according to the text, meaning it will come back to the panel for a second, final vote.

The law applies to all evictions due to coronavirus-related non-payment dating from March 4, when Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency in California, through May 31. The City Council can come back at any point to extend that timeframe.

The ordinance would not, however, give tenants a free pass on rent; it would merely give them more time to pay it. All rent that goes unpaid through May 31 (unless extended at a later date) would be due by Nov. 30.

The council also voted unanimously to allow the city to operate a temporary homeless shelter at the former North Neighborhood Library, 5571 Orange Ave., from April 1 to Sept. 30.

The votes came as Long Beach residents have been ordered to stay at home to prevent the further spread of the novel coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19. Non-essential businesses have also been directed to close, which has led to layoffs and furloughs throughout the city.

“Nobody is exempt from the impacts here,” Eighth District City Councilman Al Austin said. “We have to be decisive as a council tonight and show leadership and provide hope for our constituents, who are suffering today with the impact to our local economy and national economy.”

The ordinance governing the ban on evictions will require tenants to provide notice to their landlords that they cannot afford to pay their rent within three days of receiving an eviction notice; the tenant must also provide documentation proving they have had a substantial loss of income due to the coronavirus or the government’s response to it.

Although council members debated whether to include a definition of “substantial,” the panel ultimately decided against the move.

“The ordinance as written does not provide much direction on what a ‘substantial impact’ is,” Deputy City Attorney Richard Anthony said. “I took the language directly from the governor’s order, and there may be some value in not determining what ‘substantial’ is, because once you try to start, it’s like unspooling a ball of twine.”

Council members also considered whether tenants should be required to pay some portion of the rent due based on whatever income they have available. That idea was also nixed; instead, the ordinance will include language suggesting that tenants should pay what they can — even if it’s not legally required.

Vice Mayor Dee Andrews, for his part, said it was important not to add too many stipulations to the eviction ban.

“I don’t think we can quantify everyone’s situation,” he said, “because this is about compassion. I think keeping people in their homes is what this should be about.”

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