There have been barely any attempts to evict renters during the pandemic, but some tenant advocates fear a wave of evictions after local moratoriums are lifted. Credit: Pete Rosos

Before the pandemic, Oakland landlords regularly filed hundreds of eviction notices each month, mainly trying to kick tenants out for missing rent payments.

Then in March 2020, as many local businesses were laying off their entire staffs and others were temporarily shutting down, Oakland and Alameda County passed moratoriums on evictions. The policies, considered two of the strongest COVID-19 tenant protection measures in the country, made it illegal to evict almost anyone in the city—even if they were behind on rent. 

Both policies are still in effect and will remain so until after the coronavirus crisis. Oakland will lift its moratorium once the City Council declares an end to the local state of emergency. Alameda County will continue banning evictions until 60 days after the county emergency ends. 

A new online data portal created by the city gives a sense of the impact of these policies on Oakland renters and landlords. Most obviously, eviction notices dropped dramatically as soon as the city’s eviction moratorium was passed. 

When Oakland property owners notify tenants that they’re beginning an eviction process, they’re required to file a copy of the notice with the city, explaining why they’re trying to remove a renter. While property owners filed 556 eviction notices with the city in February 2020, there were only 74 filed in April and 27 in May.

Oakland’s eviction portal does not reveal what happens after notices are filed. For any given case, there is no indication of whether the tenants ended up moving out of their unit or staying put. But the data reveal that far fewer property owners have taken even the first step of initiating an eviction during the pandemic. 

Anyone can make an account to view the data available through the Rent Adjustment Program eviction portal, which landlords can also use to file notices. The public data portal, launched earlier this year, has charts dating back to January 2018, showing when notices were filed, the stated reason for the eviction, and which ZIP codes the properties are located in. 

Credit: City of Oakland

What’s not included online are the addresses of individual properties where eviction notices were filed. While that information is public and can be requested from the city, RAP staffers said they didn’t want the portal to be used by landlords screening prospective tenants for previous evictions, so they left out addresses and names.

Renters living directly east of Lake Merritt and in West Oakland and Chinatown have received the most eviction notices in the city in recent years, the portal shows. In the 94606 ZIP code, 1,894 eviction notices have been issued since January 2018, and in 94607, there have been 1,713 notices. That’s in contrast with 94618 (Rockridge), which saw the lowest number of evictions, 91, and 94619 (Laurel and the Oakland hills), the second lowest number for any zip code, 44. (We didn’t include 94705 in our rankings because it’s almost entirely in Berkeley.)

Comparing hard eviction numbers between ZIP codes can be misleading, because some areas have far more rental units—and thus inevitably more evictions—than others. However, a 2018 report from the city suggested there are major racial disparities in evictions in Oakland. Looking at renter-occupied housing, the study found a much higher rate of eviction notices filed in majority Black Census tracts than in Latino or white tracts. Majority Asian Census tracts saw the lowest rate of evictions.

The new portal also tracks the stated reason why a landlord wants to remove their tenant. In the vast majority of cases—nearly 14,000 of the about 15,300 notices filed since 2018—the owner sought to evict a non-paying renter. In around 550 there was a diferent alleged lease violation. 

While attempted evictions have slowed significantly during the crisis, the portal shows they haven’t stopped altogether. In some rare cases, evictions are still permitted, if a tenant is causing a major health or safety risk in their building, for example, or if a landlord wants to take their property off the rental market, through an Ellis Act eviction.

There are also explainable spikes in some months. In September 2020, there were 212 notices filed, compared to 22 in August. The increase was likely caused by some landlords, including some corporations that own numerous Oakland buildings, issuing 15-day “pay rent or quit” warnings to tenants. The notices were legal under the state eviction moratorium, which only applied to tenants who’d been affected financially by COVID-19, and there was substantial confusion and disagreement at the time about whether they were permitted or necessary in Oakland given the stricter local moratoriums. Some landlords withdrew the notices, and there were no reports of a significant increase in evictions in Oakland in response.

It is unclear when Oakland and Alameda County plan to lift their local states of emergency, which will cause the eviction moratoriums to expire. California has announced that the state is on track to fully reopen its economy June 15, meaning the local pandemic response could conclude in a couple months as well. 

Since the start of the pandemic, many renters and tenant advocates have feared the crush of evictions that could follow the end of the moratoriums. Many landlords, in turn, say they’ve struggled from months of missed rent payments and have waited for more than a year to regain the legal right to decide who lives in their buildings. 

Oakland has permanent tenant protections as well, preventing most evictions without “just cause” like failure to pay rent or illegal activity. Those policies will remain intact after the pandemic.

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.