Tuesday, September 26, 2023
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Eviction moratorium extended three months in Oakland

The City Council also barred property owners from raising rents until July 2024.

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — Already a city with robust renter protections, Oakland extended an eviction moratorium until July to prevent thousands of people being evicted and banned rent hikes until July 2024. 

The Oakland City Council debated Tuesday whether to allow the city’s Covid-19 eviction ban to expire at the end of April, and enhance the ordinance requiring landlords to show “just cause” for evicting a tenant. 

The issue has drawn significant crowds as it moved through committee, with a clear divide between some local and regional property owners and tenant advocates. The advocates say the very high cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area is leading to increasing rates of eviction and homelessness, particularly among Black residents.  

The California Legislature enacted bills to provide relief for tenants and housing providers during the pandemic, and property owners were still permitted to file unlawful detainer actions for fault and just cause.

Two lawsuits in Oakland federal court over the countywide eviction ban are ongoing, with a judge denying landlords' request for summary judgment this past November. The judge found ordinances prohibiting landlords from evicting tenants during the Covid-19 pandemic are temporary and do not violate the U.S. Constitution, and state law allows municipalities to enact renter-friendly eviction restrictions. 

San Francisco has also faced a state court lawsuit by landlords over its permanent ban on evictions of people unable to pay rent during the Covid-19 crisis. 

At Tuesday’s meeting, Oakland City Council members indicated they are inclined to add enhanced protections for renters even while allowing the moratorium to sunset. The same has been done in Berkeley, where the moratorium ends April 30 with a transition period set through August. 

Council president Nikki Fortunato Bas and president pro tem Dan Kalb recommended establishing a timeline for phasing out the moratorium, to prevent harm when protections expire. They suggested amending the city’s just cause eviction ordinance to permanently codify protections, such as prohibiting evictions based on nonpayment of rent under certain conditions and limiting resident manager evictions. 

Before the pandemic, more than half of Oakland tenants paid more than 30% of income toward rent, and 14% of renters of color reported they could not pay rent in full. Because of the eviction moratorium, 27.9% of all eviction reprieves occurred in Black-majority neighborhoods despite making up only 11.6% of the neighborhoods in the data pool. Latino neighborhoods also saw a high percentage of eviction reprieves during this time.

Prices and inflation have gone up even as moratoriums draw to a close. According to Zumper and National Low Income Housing Coalition, in March the median rental price for a one-bedroom unit in Oakland was $2,050 per month while minimum wage is $15.97 per hour, and a full-time hourly worker must earn an hourly wage of $39.03 to afford a two-bedroom apartment.

City staff say that Oakland’s programs have been a national example for serving extremely low-income residents and centering racial equity. But while Oakland has invested approximately $58.4 million in emergency rental assistance to date, only $1 million is budgeted for eviction protection and $2.3 million for homelessness prevention pilot programs. 

Oakland Tenants Union co-founder James Vann warned the council that they must prevent “incentivizing evictions," given the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act allows landlords to raise rent after evicting people.

“Landlords are going to take advantage of that,” Vann said. 

About 130 others spoke to the council for several hours into the night as tensions rose. 

Some property owners said they do not want to evict people but have tenants committing offenses worthy of doing so. East Bay Rental Housing Association’s CEO Derek Barnes asked the council to end the eviction ban and establish a funding program for both burdened households and landlords.

But not all property owners were united. Some criticized council members for comparing their experiences to Black residents’, and many said renters need to be protected from property owners who received Covid-19 relief and still raised rents.

“The privilege in this room is pervasive, I have never been so disgusted,” property owner Cat Brooks said. “The majority of evictions that take place are of Black folks. And the homeless camps sprung up before Covid, not just because of fentanyl but because the rent was too damn high.”

Oakland Tenants Union members asked the council to ensure that thousands of tenants have stronger protections, such as by making landlords demonstrate evidence of substantial damage before pretextual evictions based on lease breaches.

In the end, the council voted 7-1 to sunset the moratorium July 15 and extend a rent increase ban until July 2024. Councilmember Noel Gallo voted against the plan.

“There should have been an opportunity that we could work with the small landlords," Gallo said. "What we’re doing today is discouraging people who may have had an extra room, or rented out a certain portion of their home, because they don’t want to get into the situation we’re in today.”

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Categories / Government, Politics, Regional

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