The local moratorium on evictions will last for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis in Oakland and Alameda County. Credit: Pete Rosos

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Early on in the pandemic, Oakland and Alameda County passed new laws temporarily banning most evictions.

These local “eviction moratoriums,” considered some of the strongest COVID-19 tenant protections in the state, are designed to help give people who are struggling to pay rent because of the crisis some more stability, and to contain the spread of the disease by keeping people in their homes.

But there has been significant confusion about what the medley of ordinances really does, and how the laws interact with one another. In July, The Oaklandside published a guide to the new policies, talking to renters, property owners, and lawyers to collect and answer some of the most common questions. 

Since then, some aspects of the rules have gotten clearer, and others more complicated, and policies have been tweaked and extended. One thing we know for sure is that the local eviction moratoriums are here to stay for the duration of the pandemic. Oakland’s ordinance will end only when the local “state of emergency” related to COVID-19 is lifted. The county’s will last for 60 days after that—or 60 days after Dec. 31, whichever comes later. 

But there’s still considerable debate about how the local, county, and state laws overlap, and what they allow renters and landlords to do. “We’re swimming in currents taking us in all different directions,” said Marc Janowitz, a tenant lawyer with the East Bay Community Law Center.

We figured it’s time for a new FAQ—though we certainly don’t have all the answers either. But if you’re a tenant or property owner who’s still trying to figure out how the rules apply to you, and where to find advice and support, you might find something helpful here.

Can I get evicted in Oakland right now?

So no evictions are allowed right now? What if my tenant is physically threatening another person in the building?

I haven’t been able to pay rent since May. Will I have to pay it eventually, and when? 

So if Oakland’s moratorium says something different than the county’s, how do I know which applies to me?

But what about the state law? I heard tenants in California have to pay 25% of their rent or risk eviction.

I own a rent-controlled building, where I raise the rent by the maximum amount allowed each year. Can I still do that this year?

My tenant lost some of her income because of COVID-19, so I’d like to cut her rent in half for a few months. But I want to make sure I’ll be able to raise it back to the normal rate after the pandemic.

Can my landlord ask me for proof that I lost income because of the pandemic?

My tenant is able to pay rent and is perfectly willing to sign an agreement stating they’ll continue to do so, allowing me to evict them if they don’t.

My family lives in the duplex we own, and we rent out the other unit so we can afford our mortgage. But our tenants have stopped paying rent. What can we do?

How many people aren’t paying rent in Oakland?

Is anyone getting evicted? 

I got a 15-day notice telling me to “pay rent or quit” (move out) unless I give my landlord a signed declaration that I’ve lost income because of the crisis. What should I do?

Is the city of Oakland helping renters and property owners with their monthly payments during this crisis?

Say the moratoriums are lifted at the end of December. What happens if I don’t pay January rent?

Where can I read more about my rights?

Can I get evicted in Oakland right now?

In nearly all cases, no, even if you’re missing rent payments. 

However, Oakland’s eviction moratorium only applies to units covered by the city’s Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance. That ordinance includes only apartments and houses built before 1996, and it doesn’t cover people who live with their landlords. 

But Alameda County’s eviction moratorium covers all renters, even in those cases. According to the county, this means all tenants in Oakland are protected by an eviction moratorium—and we’ll get into why that is later.

So no evictions are allowed right now? What if my tenant is physically threatening another person in the building?

There are a few exceptions to the Oakland and Alameda County policies. Evictions may be permitted if there’s an immediate health and safety issue (a coronavirus case doesn’t count), or if it’s necessary to remove a tenant in order to comply with a government order, like a “red tag” deeming the building hazardous. 

Landlords can also take their properties off the rental market altogether, using an Ellis Act eviction. But if a property is being sold or foreclosed—or a renter’s lease ends—the tenants still have a right to stay in their homes until the moratoriums expire. 

And in Alameda County, if you lost income because of the coronavirus crisis, there are no exceptions to the eviction moratorium, including those listed above.

I haven’t been able to pay rent since May. Will I have to pay it eventually, and when? 

None of the eviction moratoriums “cancel” rent. You can’t get evicted right now for not paying rent, but you’re still on the hook for those missed payments.

Alameda County’s eviction moratorium gives you a year to pay back rent from the date it became due. Did you miss your May 2020 rent payment? You’ll need to send your landlord a check for that month before May 2021. If you’ve been paying rent so far, but you’re worried about being able to pay in November, you’ll have until November 2021 to make that month’s payment. 

This pattern will continue until the moratorium is lifted. But even after the 12-month mark passes, you can never get evicted for not paying rent that was due during the pandemic—if you were financially impacted by COVID-19. Your landlord can take you to court to demand you pay that debt—they just can’t kick you out of your apartment.

For tenants who lost income or gained expenses because of COVID-19 (whether you got sick, lost your job, or quit your job to take care of your kids), the city’s policy is similar to the county’s: You can never be evicted over that debt, but your landlord can demand the money if you don’t pay it within a year of the local state of emergency expiring.

But if you didn’t lose any income during the pandemic, Oakland’s eviction moratorium only applies as long as the local emergency is still officially in place. Any unpaid debt that remains afterward could be cause for eviction.

So if Oakland’s moratorium says something different than the county’s, how do I know which applies to me?

In most cases, the county’s rules override any individual city’s. But a city like Oakland can opt out of certain parts of the moratorium—if their policy goes even further in protecting tenants. 

Here’s where things can get complicated. Oakland has not requested to opt out of any part of the county’s policy. So the county, and most tenant attorneys, argue that Alameda County’s eviction moratorium is the law of the land. The county’s moratorium is highly similar to, but more expansive than, Oakland’s, covering all renters in the region, versus only those covered by Oakland’s Just Cause Ordinance.

However, some city officials argue that the county doesn’t have the right to rule over cities like Oakland in this way. After all, it usually doesn’t; the county’s powers are only stronger when a state of emergency is declared. 

Chanee Franklin Minor, the manager of the city of Oakland’s Rent Adjustment Program, said she believes Oakland has the stronger and prevailing law overall. But, she said, “it’s a brand new legal landscape. It’s ultimately going to be up to the judges to figure out.”

But what about the state law? I heard tenants in California have to pay 25% of their rent or risk eviction.

That’s true in many parts of the state, but California’s COVID-19 eviction law doesn’t apply to renters here. The state law, passed in late August, permitted existing city and county moratoriums to remain in effect. (This is lucky for renters in Oakland, because the state policy bans any new local moratoriums that contradict the California rules.) There’s a possibility that even the existing laws, or pieces of them, will need to be amended to align with the state rules. 

But for now, Oakland and Alameda County renters can’t get evicted for missing their full rent payments. If you have friends or family living in areas without local moratoriums—or you own rental properties in other places—check out CalMatters’s guide to the state moratorium.

I own a rent-controlled building, where I raise the rent by the maximum amount allowed each year. Can I still do that this year?

Yes, Oakland’s moratorium still allows landlords to raise rent based on the Consumer Price Index (2.7%). However, nothing above that is permitted, and late fees aren’t allowed.

My tenant lost some of her income because of COVID-19, so I’d like to cut her rent in half for a few months. But I want to make sure I’ll be able to raise it back to the normal rate after the pandemic.

Oakland’s moratorium says you can enter into an agreement with your tenant to lower the rent temporarily. If you sign a written agreement with the renter—stating, for example, that rent will be reduced by 50% from November to January—you don’t have to worry about that new, lower amount becoming the “base rent” in a rent-controlled unit. You can raise it back up to the normal rate in February. But you need to follow regular noticing laws to alert your tenants when the agreement is about to expire.

Can my landlord ask me for proof that I lost income because of the pandemic?

You’re not required to provide any information about how the pandemic is affecting you in order to prevent an eviction while the moratoriums are in place, though there are some cases where it may help to do so. Housing counselors who work for the city say renters should “be as communicative as possible about an inability to pay rent due, and to keep accurate records and notes of the communication.” The Rent Adjustment Program also offers free mediation for tenants and property owners.

In Alameda County, in order to access permanent protections from eviction over unpaid rent, you do have to provide information on a COVID-related impact to your landlord, if they ask for it. This documentation can be a letter from your boss, or an announcement of a school closure that forced you to scale back your working hours, or other items.

My tenant is able to pay rent and is perfectly willing to sign an agreement stating they’ll continue to do so, allowing me to evict them if they don’t.

The county will not enforce that agreement. Renters can’t waive the rights they’re granted by the moratoriums.

My family lives in the duplex we own, and we rent out the other unit so we can afford our mortgage. But our tenants have stopped paying rent. What can we do?

The county recommends that property owners who need mortgage assistance or advice call HERA (Housing and Economic Rights Advocates) at 510-271-8843, or Centro Legal de la Raza at 510-437-1554. 

If your loan is owned or guaranteed by a federal agency, you might be eligible for temporary relief. If you don’t have a federally backed loan, you can contact your lender to ask for an extension, and they’ll have to provide an explanation and a second chance if they deny your request. 

The eviction moratorium does not protect homeowners who are behind on mortgage payments, and tenants in units like yours cannot be evicted. If they don’t pay you back within a year, the moratorium permits you to take them to small claims court.

How many people aren’t paying rent in Oakland?

It’s really hard to say. The East Bay Rental Housing Association, a local landlord group, says it hasn’t collected rent payment data from its members—and the group represents only a portion of Oakland property owners, anyway. 

The National Multifamily Housing Council, an apartment industry group, collects data from around the country, and found a 79% payment rate for October—unchanged from October last year, and close to the monthly average since before the pandemic. At the very beginning of the pandemic, they reported a lower payment rate. But local trends may not match the national data, as renters could be affected by employment rates in a given local industry, relief funds available locally, existing poverty rates in that city, and more. 

Next door in Berkeley, a landlord group said that at the start of the pandemic, only about 10% of tenants missed April rent. A tenant attorney we spoke with said he’s now getting numerous calls from renters who can’t pay, though.

Small rent strikes have happened. These are typically led by groups of renters who share a landlord and agree to collectively withhold rent until a demand is met, such as full forgiveness of unpaid rent for tenants who lost their jobs during the crisis. That’s the case for a group of tenants of SMC, one of Oakland’s largest corporate landlords. Renters at Fourth Street East, a Jack London luxury complex where tenants typically pay around $3,000 for a studio, are also withholding some of their rent after the building’s owners, Carmel Partners, shut down amenities and didn’t make concessions for those who’ve lost income.

Is anyone getting evicted?

Eviction attempts are definitively down, said Minor from the city’s Rent Adjustment Program. Her office usually sees 250 eviction notices a week, and there have been fewer than 50 a month during the pandemic. “The moratorium is working,” she said. 

But more property owners are pursuing restraining orders against tenants—which can be a precursor to eviction—based on health and safety issues, since they offer landlords a rare exception to the moratorium, said Janowitz from the East Bay Community Law Center: “We’re seeing an explosion of allegations.”

I got a 15-day notice telling me to “pay rent or quit” (move out) unless I give my landlord a signed declaration that I’ve lost income because of the crisis. What should I do?

In recent weeks, some Oakland landlords have handed out these notices to tenants who’ve missed rent payments (SMC ultimately retracted them). Local attorneys have different takes on the tactic’s legality, and what renters who get them should do. 

These notices are actually required under the state’s moratorium, because it only protects renters whose income or costs have been affected by COVID-19. In Oakland, some housing attorneys say these notices are illegal threats, given that the state law recognizes the local eviction moratorium, which says nobody needs to move out while the local policy is in effect. 

Other attorneys say property owners can hand out the notices if they want, but can’t follow through on the “quit” piece—i.e. they can’t evict anyone in nearly all cases. But many have advised tenants to go ahead and sign the declarations if they’ve lost income, saying it can’t hurt to communicate about your circumstances, and may end up being required by the state. Again, this is new legal territory, and nobody is 100% sure what makes sense here.

Is the city of Oakland helping renters and property owners with their monthly payments during this crisis?

Oakland is giving out a total of $5 million in small grants to low-income tenants and homeowners. See the city’s instructions for applying for the funds, which come from federal relief money distributed by the state. Recipients will be prioritized based on financial need and how you’ve been affected by COVID-19.
The county also has a program called AC Housing Secure, which provides free legal advice and financial assistance to low-income renters and homeowners at risk of displacement.

Say the moratoriums are lifted at the end of December. What happens if I don’t pay January rent?

Once the moratoriums are no longer in effect, you can get evicted for not paying rent, as was the case before the pandemic. If the city and county ordinances are both lifted in January, non-payment of February rent can be cause for eviction.

Where can I read more about my rights?

Check out the county’s eviction FAQ. And here’s Oakland’s. You can also contact the city’s Rent Adjustment Program at 510-238-3721 or at RAP@oaklandca.gov if you still have questions.

Correction: This story was updated after publication to include the deadline for paying rent in Oakland, and to state that tenants must provide proof of a COVID-19 financial impact in Alameda County if asked by their landlord, contrary to what this article initially said.

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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 grew up in Berkeley and has only left her beloved East Bay once, to attend Pomona College.