Most evictions are still prohibited in Oakland. Credit: Amir Aziz

Shortly after the pandemic began in 2020, multiple cities and counties up and down the state instituted bans on evictions to protect renters from being displaced as the economy faltered and people’s incomes dried up. Oakland passed its own eviction ban, as did Alameda County. 

Later on, the state passed a sweeping eviction ban and created a rental assistance program to help out tenants who couldn’t pay rent, and their landlords. The state’s eviction moratorium expired several months ago, but in March the legislature extended some of the protections. 

Headlines about the recent changes to the state program created some confusion for renters and property owners in Oakland and the rest of Alameda County, who were unsure whether this would impact them.

Long story short, the local bans on evictions, passed at the start of the pandemic, are still in effect. Most evictions in Oakland are currently prohibited. 

But some circumstances have shifted since the city and county eviction rules and rent relief programs went into effect early in the crisis. Read on for details.

Can a renter be evicted in Oakland?

Oakland and Alameda County eviction moratorium policies still provide a double layer of protection to most local renters. 

Under Oakland’s moratorium, renters who are protected by the city’s Just Cause for Eviction policy—which typically applies to all buildings constructed before 1996— can only be evicted in very rare cases. Those exceptions include cases where a renter is threatening someone’s safety, or if the owner plans to take the building off the rental market, through what’s known as an Ellis Act eviction. Even if a renter has missed rent payments, that’s not legal cause for eviction under the moratorium. Late fees are also prohibited. 

Live in a newer Oakland building? You’re still covered by Alameda County’s policy. And that ordinance goes further. No eviction is permitted whatsoever, if a tenant can provide proof that they haven’t been able to pay rent because of a COVID-related impact, like losing a job or income, or having to take time off from work to care for a sick family member.

When will the local moratorium expire?

Both the city and county policies are tied to the local state of emergency. When local governments declare the COVID-19 emergency over, the policies will expire. Alameda County’s will actually last 60 days beyond the end of the emergency. It’s up to the Oakland City Council and the county Board of Supervisors to decide exactly when the emergency is over.

But I heard the moratorium was lifted, right?

You likely heard about the state eviction law. 

The statewide eviction moratorium actually expired a while ago, in September. But people who applied for rent relief through the state’s program were still protected from eviction until March 31. What happened a couple weeks ago was an extension of those protections. People who applied for rent relief before March 31 can’t be evicted until June 30 for failure to pay rent because of the pandemic. 

The expiration of the state moratorium doesn’t directly affect Oakland residents, because the city and county moratoriums are still in place. The state moratorium did not override local moratoriums that were already passed. When state lawmakers passed the state moratorium, they did prohibit cities and counties from passing new moratoriums, but Oakland and Alameda County’s were already in place and weren’t affected by this rule. 

Will tenants still owe the rent they’ve missed?

Yes, the eviction moratorium does not forgive or “cancel” back rent. Regardless of whether a tenant missed rent in April 2020 or April 2021, or every month in between, they’re still on the hook for those payments. Tenants have 12 months from when rent became due to pay it back, or their landlord can take them to court to demand the debt. After the moratorium lifts, renters still can’t be evicted over that debt if they can prove they were financially affected by the pandemic. 

Some landlords have also begun to reach deals with tenant unions to forgive a portion of missed rent.

Can tenants get help paying rent?

The city of Oakland’s rental assistance program stopped accepting applications as of April 1. The city says the demand exceeds the amount of funding available. Oakland is still processing many of those rent relief applications from several months ago. Previously, the state controlled a portion of Oakland’s rent relief money, and some of those state applications are still pending as well, but the city took over the program with the latest round of federal funds. (See more information from the city on the status of its rent relief program.)

What’s next for Oakland and Alameda County’s eviction moratoriums?

It is unclear when the city and county will lift their state-of-emergency declarations. There is also some indication that the local moratoriums will be rolled back slowly, with provisions changing over time, instead of all at once when the emergency is over. 
In March, a group of local landlords sued Oakland and Alameda County in federal court, attempting to overturn the eviction moratorium policies immediately. That case is ongoing, and a group of tenants and supporters held a protest this past weekend at the home of a property owner behind the suit.

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.