Oakland officials have introduced a plan to phase out the city’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium, three years after the City Council passed the emergency measure in response to the burgeoning pandemic.
The proposal, from Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas and Councilmember Dan Kalb, would roll back the provisions in pieces over the coming months, while also adding new permanent tenant protections. A committee of the City Council will review the ordinance April 11 and decide whether to send it to the full council for a vote later that month.
Bas and Kalb’s proposal would lift the moratorium in steps “in order to help avoid a surge of evictions leading to an increase in homelessness, and allowing property owners to proceed with urgent evictions,” according to a press release from Bas.
Landlords would be allowed to evict tenants who don’t pay rent beginning May 1—unless the renter can prove a COVID-related reason for the nonpayment. But tenants couldn’t be evicted for unpaid amounts of rent incurred before May 1. The moratorium considers unpaid rent starting in March 2020 a form of debt that the tenant is responsible for covering and landlords can file small claims and other lawsuits in court to seek this money.
Evictions would also be permitted beginning in May if the property owner or their family member wants to move into the unit, if it’s the only one they own in Oakland.
September 1 is when almost all the other protections would expire. That means any eviction normally permitted in Oakland could go forward, including if a tenant is not paying rent because of a COVID-19 hardship like wages lost due to pandemic business closures or an inability to work because of long COVID.
Some final elements would end in July 2024. The moratorium prevents landlords from “passing through” the cost of repairs onto tenants, or “banking” permitted rent increases to apply them at a later date instead. Property owners would be allowed to resume these practices next summer.
Tenant groups say the plan is reasonable, while some landlords want a quicker end
Members of the Oakland Tenants Union said they’re pleased with the proposal, calling it a “reasonable step” that “avoids abrupt and massive displacement” by rolling the policy back piecemeal and allowing renters who are still impacted by the ongoing crisis time to pull together funds for current and past rent.
A majority of Oakland residents are renters, so “the city’s primary concern in ending the eviction moratorium must be the housing security of the city’s tenants,” said OTU’s Thomas Alexander, James Vann, and Carlotta Brown in a statement sent to The Oaklandside.
At a Thursday meeting of the City Council’s Rules & Legislation Committee, Josh Polston, a board member of the landlord advocacy group East Bay Rental Housing Association, called in to say the council should act more swiftly in lifting the eviction ban.
“The phaseout should be, ‘Folks, in 30 days, you need to start paying rent.’ That’s what needs to happen now, not wait,” he said.
About 100 landlords associated with EBRHA and other property-owner groups held a rally demanding the end of the moratorium at City Hall on Tuesday, then spoke at a City Council meeting, where some disrupted the proceedings in protest. Several said they’re owed thousands of dollars by tenants they’ve been unable to evict for years.
At Thursday’s Rules committee meeting, Bas made a point to note that she’d previously met with many of the people who organized Tuesday’s rally and caused the disruption at council. She said that, despite their protests, they were already aware that she planned to propose an end to the moratorium later in the week.
“I just want to let folks know that this has been in the works for some time,” Bas said. “Those individuals who were disrupting our meeting met with me on March 15…they were aware of our timeline.”
In early March, Bas told The Oaklandside that she was working on a policy to phase out the moratorium in a manner that would protect both the most housing-insecure tenants as well as small property owners. The step-by-step approach is one Kalb has spoken about for several months too, and the proposed rollback closely mirrors the adopted plan in Berkeley, where similar provisions will end in May and September.
New tenant protections are also under consideration
Along with phasing out the moratorium, Bas and Kalb are proposing permanent tenant protections that would make it harder to evict renters going forward.
One of these provisions would prohibit the eviction of a renter for owing anything less than what the federal government considers one month of “fair market rent.” And if a renter is being evicted for a violation of their lease terms, the property owner must prove that the breach “caused the landlord substantial damage.”
Oakland has long had a “just cause” eviction policy, saying renters can’t be arbitrarily kicked out of their homes. Instead, there are 11 eligible causes for eviction, such as nonpayment of rent, substantial upgrades to the unit, or illegal activity by the tenant. The eviction moratorium temporarily suspended most of those reasons.
In the November election, voters also strengthened the just-cause policy, adding further protections like limiting evictions of educators and children during the school year.
Proponents of the expanded just-cause rules say they’ll help ward off the spike in evictions seen in other Bay Area cities and counties after their moratoriums expired, lowering the risk of pushing more people into homelessness.
Some property owners called into the Rules meeting to argue that the new tenant protections should not be lumped in with the moratorium phaseout, and debated separately instead.