This week, Oakland tenants got another rent reprieve and more protections against harassment. Credit: Pete Rosos

Update, July 28: Renters in Alameda County are protected from eviction until at least 2021. Following in Oakland’s footsteps, the county Board of Supervisors extended its moratorium until Dec. 31, or 60 days after the state of emergency is lifted, whichever is later.

Update, July 21: The Oakland City Council has extended the city’s eviction moratorium, following Alameda County’s extension of its own ordinance last week. Oakland officials went further, declaring a moratorium on evictions until the council lifts the local state of emergency, whereas the county’s moratorium will end on September 30, likely sooner. The two ordinances are similar, but Oakland can opt out of the county’s in cases when its own law is found to have stronger tenant protections.

Original story, July 17: A new extension of Alameda County’s eviction moratorium makes it illegal for landlords to kick tenants out of their homes for almost any reason until October.

The county Board of Supervisors’ Tuesday vote doesn’t just take evictions off the table until the fall. It also prevents landlords from ever evicting a tenant who didn’t pay rent between March 24 and September 30, to account for income loss during the pandemic. Tenants have a year to pay back that rent from the time it was due. If that doesn’t happen, the property owner can take them to court to collect the money. But the debt can never be used as a reason for eviction.

Alameda County first adopted an “urgency” eviction moratorium in late March, then updated and extended it in April. That ordinance, considered one of the strongest tenant protection measures in the state, was set to expire July 20. In a pair of 3-0 votes in June and again Tuesday, supervisors passed an official law, extending the policy until September 30 and retroactively applying all the current rules to March. 

“This was a pretty hard-fought battle,” said Reetu Mody, managing attorney with Centro Legal de la Raza. “There’s a sense of relief. People were really freaking out about, ‘How am I going to pay August rent? And as COVID cases are surging, am I going to end up out on the streets with my whole family?’”

With the Oakland Unified School District planning to start the fall semester with at-home distance learning, losing stable housing could also prevent children from getting an education, she said.

Oakland has a similar eviction moratorium in place until August 31. The city can opt out of Alameda County’s rules only if the city’s law is stronger.

Confused about the eviction rules in Oakland and Alameda County? We have answers to your questions.

Local landlord groups have reported that the vast majority of East Bay tenants are still managing to pay rent despite high unemployment rates. But as savings dwindle, and with increased unemployment benefits set to end this month, tenant advocates say low-income renters are running out of options.

Mody said many of her clients who’ve been laid off or who’ve gotten sick are being forced to decide between paying for necessities like diabetes medication and making rent. 

Some landlords are in tough spots too, losing rental income they rely on to support their families or pay their own housing expenses, said the East Bay Rental Housing Association, a local landlord group. No representatives were available to speak with The Oaklandside on Thursday, said a staff member, but the organization sent a written statement.

“Housing providers (particularly small property owners) have been severely affected by the loss of income incurred due to the eviction moratorium,” the statement said. “Property owners rely on prompt rental payments to meet their expenses for mortgage, taxes, maintenance, and to pay their employees and vendors. Indefinite delay of rental payments creates economic hardship.”

The group cited the example of a single mother who owns a duplex, living in one unit and collecting rent from the other. Policies should focus on providing direct rent assistance rather than imposing a moratorium that impacts owners, the statement said.

Some tenants and advocates urged an even longer extension, however, during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. It’s unlikely, they argued, that a vaccine will be available and everyone will get their jobs back by October. Ending the moratorium in a couple months will result in a spike in homelessness while the virus is still spreading, they said. 

Oakland renters get more permanent protections

Soon after the county extended its eviction moratorium, the Oakland City Council passed its own set of updated tenant protection measures, which will not expire when the pandemic ends.

The near-unanimous vote (District 3 Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney, who represents West and downtown Oakland, did not vote) approves updates to Oakland’s three renter protection laws: the Rent Adjustment Program Ordinance, the Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance, and the Tenant Protection Ordinance.

The new rules say landlords can’t harass tenants by shutting off their utilities, threatening to report them to immigration authorities, recording videos in their apartments, or using other tactics. These tenant protection updates were not proposed because of the pandemic, but they will help address new issues that have come up during the coronavirus crisis, Mody said.

Renters can also now bring in new roommates if the landlord “unreasonably refuses” to approve new tenants. Currently, for example, a landlord could refuse to fill a vacant third bedroom because there were only two tenants on the original lease, or she could deny a new tenant based on his credit score, even if he was moving in with parents and not paying rent.

Job loss, child care needs, and elder care constraints have prompted many family members to move in together this spring and summer, Mody said. Oakland’s new law gives them the freedom to do that in many cases, even if the landlord objects.

Even with the new flexibility, Mody said most tenants she works with are still trying to pay rent under very difficult circumstances.

“These are not people who are like, ‘Chill, I’m going to save up and go to the Bahamas,” she said. “Folks do not want to screw over their landlords or each other.”

Natalie Orenstein covers housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. She was previously on staff at Berkeleyside, where her extensive reporting on the legacy of school desegregation received recognition from the Society of Professional Journalists NorCal and the Education Writers Association. Natalie’s reporting has also appeared in The J Weekly, The San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere, and she’s written about public policy for a number of research institutes and think tanks. Natalie lives in Oakland, grew up in Berkeley, and has only left her beloved East Bay once, to attend Pomona College.