Oakland officials will vote Tuesday on whether to end the city’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium this summer, the first time the full council has reviewed the proposal to lift the pandemic policy.
The legislation, from Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas and Councilmember Dan Kalb, would bring the eviction ban to an end on July 15, while adopting new, permanent tenant protections throughout the city. The current proposal is significantly different than what Bas and Kalb initially put forth in March, which would have wound down the moratorium in phases, lifting certain provisions in May and others in September, depending on whether the tenant could demonstrate a COVID-related hardship.
The new plan splits the difference, ending the policy in one go this summer.
“We hope this addresses the concern that a transition period is too complicated and a date certain will be more easily understood,” said Bas in a memo addressed to the council and public.
Recent public meetings have drawn protests and disruption by landlord groups accusing the city of “theft” and “abuse” and pressing officials to end the moratorium immediately. Some property owners have commented that they’re owed thousands of dollars by tenants enabled to skip out on rent by the moratorium. Renters are still required to pay for their apartments under the policy, but it says landlords cannot evict them if they don’t.
A number of tenants also spoke at a council committee meeting last week, warning officials that an abrupt expiration of the moratorium could cause chaos, leaving renters, who make up a majority of Oakland’s population, at risk of mass eviction and homelessness. They urged the slower phase-out of the policy, to give more time to renters who are still recuperating from COVID-19 decimating their income.
Bas and Kalb’s proposal also comes with permanent additions to Oakland’s tenant protection laws. If passed, landlords will never be allowed to evict a tenant for owing less than one month of what the federal government considers “fair market rent.”
The proposal builds on the recent expansion of Oakland’s “just cause” eviction policy, which was passed by voters in November 2022, as well as the 3% annual rent increase cap adopted by the City Council last year.
The new proposal includes a notable change to the tenant protections in Bas and Kalb’s original legislation. The policy proposed in March said landlords wanting to evict a tenant for violating their lease would have to demonstrate that the breach caused “substantial actual damage” to the property owner or other renters and that the behavior was “unreasonable.” The amended proposal slashes those provisions, instead allowing evictions for lease violations as long as the violated term was legal and in writing.
These amendments correspond with comments made recently by Councilmembers Kevin Jenkins and Janani Ramachandran, who said the original proposal was unnecessary because it’s redundant with what’s generally already required of landlords in these cases. At a meeting last week, before Bas and Kalb made the recent tweaks to their legislation, Jenkins said he was not prepared to vote for the proposal.
Councilmember Noel Gallo also suggested ending the entire moratorium on May 30, saying he empathized with small-scale landlords who are struggling because they’re owed rent.
In her memo, Bas said she hopes the new proposal addresses the sticking points and will earn votes from a majority of her colleagues.
“The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt for generations to come,” she wrote.
$4 million for Coliseum Connections tenants?
Another item on Tuesday’s agenda deals with hundreds of tenants who are struggling for reasons unrelated to the pandemic.
The proposal would double the city’s financial support for victims of a New Year’s Eve flood that displaced renters from the Coliseum Connections apartments in East Oakland. Many of the renters, including several families with children, have been staying in hotels since January, awaiting repairs enabling them to return home.
In February, the City Council voted to front up to $2 million to cover hotel costs through the end of April. Tuesday’s proposal would raise that amount to $4 million, for lodging through July 31. While the city expects to get most of the money reimbursed by the federal government, Oakland would need to contribute $250,000.
Initially, the owner of Coliseum Connections, Michael Johnson of UrbanCore Development, paid for the hotels, but he has said that his company can no longer afford the costs. Johnson also owes the tenants separate relocation funds under city law, and Oakland sent him a notice in March warning him that he’s out of compliance with that requirement.
Tenants of the apartment buildings, a mixed-income complex that opened in 2019, have repeatedly pleaded with city officials to boost support for the impacted households and to hold Johnson and property management company FPI accountable for mitigating the crisis. They’ve said the disaster has disrupted their lives, making it difficult to get to work and school, removing them from their communities, and damaging their mental health.
City staff said 19 households have opted to move out of Coliseum Connections permanently, instead of waiting to return. Oakland has fronted the payment that Johnson owes the 13 low-income households who’ve made this decision, but staff said the city’s funding structure prohibits them from covering costs for an additional four market-rate tenants.
Repairs to Coliseum Connections, initially expected to be completed within a week or two of the flood, are now expected to take until June.