How renters will be protected when Oakland’s eviction ban ends in July
OAKLAND — Property owners can once again kick out tenants for failure to pay rent starting July 15, a hard-fought compromise end date to the city’s COVID-era ban on evictions.
Just before midnight Tuesday, the city council voted 7-1 to sunset the pandemic-era policy, while adding permanent “just cause” protections to keep tenants from being evicted in droves this summer on flimsy pretenses.
Nikki Fortunato Bas, the council’s president and author of the legislation, said she hoped it would meet “our broader goals of housing stability, homelessness prevention and certainty about the end of the moratorium.”
Tenants will not owe “back rent” for what went unpaid in the time since the eviction moratorium first took effect in March 2020, as long as they can demonstrate financial losses due to COVID. And landlords can’t remove a tenant who owes less than a month of what’s considered fair rent for an equivalent unit on the market.
An earlier proposal by Bas and Councilmember Dan Kalb had sought to phase out the moratorium gradually beginning in September, and it would have forced landlords to prove that their lease-violating tenants “caused substantial actual damage.”
After extensive lobbying by property owners, however, Bas and Kalb compromised on the earlier date.
To the dismay of some renters, two others on the council — Janani Ramachandran and Kevin Jenkins — secured the removal of the “substantial damage” language, arguing that it would duplicate Oakland’s existing laws.
“I won’t say I’m thrilled with all the modifications, but part of the legislative process is the art of compromise in a fair fashion, as long as you still have a good end product — and I think we still do,” Kalb said at Tuesday’s meeting, where public comment lasted several hours.
Those who still need help with rent will be directed to the city’s rental assistance program, which council members on Tuesday said has not been fully utilized.
Earlier in the day, Alameda County awarded a new grant to the nonprofit Centro Legal de la Raza, which primarily offers legal services — including assistance with housing disputes — to undocumented residents.
Still, tenants at the Oakland meeting said they needed a softer landing after a financially volatile pandemic. And they criticized the council for being influenced by landlords to scrap the “substantial damage” clause.
“This allows people to get evicted for not covering 75% of their floors with carpets — I had that in my lease,” said William Wilcox, an Oakland resident who works in affordable-housing services. “Having a small dog your landlord already knew about, having a party one time — this allows unreasonable standards to evict people.”
As in past meetings, landlords showed up in large numbers to detail financial hardships caused by the three-year moratorium. Many property owners said they resented how tenants have painted them as money-hungry villains.
Hannah Kirk, a self-described single mom who rents out part of her property in Oakland, described having no recourse to evict a problem tenant who refuses to pay rent.
“I’ve always been pro-tenant, and I find myself in this weird position,” Kirk said. “What am I? Am I a small landlord? Am I a despicable, horrible corporate being? What happens when I’m forced to house someone against my will, in my home, for three years?”
The property owners had the backing of Councilmember Noel Gallo, who cast the lone dissenting vote on the ordinance, saying “we should find a way to work with the small landlord… to make sure that they’re able to be compensated, maintain their property, be respected.”
“What we’re doing today is going to discourage those that may have had an interest, who had an extra room,” Gallo said, “because they don’t want to get into a situation that we’re (in) here today.”
Oakland had been one of the last cities in the Bay Area — along with San Francisco, Berkeley and San Leandro — to keep its eviction moratorium in place, months after California brought its COVID-19 state of emergency to an end.
In recent weeks, political drama around the eviction ban engulfed Councilmember Carroll Fife, who at a previous meeting rebuked several landlords for suggesting they had effectively become slaves to their tenants because of the moratorium.
“For folks who are saying that this is slavery, shame on you. How dare you,” Fife, who is Black, had said. “I don’t want to hear another white, yellow, whatever person talk about what my ancestors experienced being enslaved and making that akin to being a landlord — never again.”
Fife drew backlash for using the word “yellow” in apparent reference to the numerous Asian property owners who have criticized the moratorium. Former mayoral candidate Seneca Scott, who has served as a spokesperson for the East Bay Rental Housing Association, called Fife’s language “divisive.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Fife walked back her phrasing but continued to criticize property owners for conflating lost rental revenue with “over 400 years of state-sanctioned violence.” She received broad support from tenants and some landlords alike who joined in condemning the rhetoric.
“I deeply regret any individual who took my words and misunderstood my heart,” the councilmember said. “But I want it to be respected, because our pain should be not so cheap; our trauma and history should not be so cheap.”
Shomik Mukherjee covers Oakland, with a focus on local politics, developments and activism. He previously reported in Contra Costa County and before joining the Bay Area News Group he worked in Eureka and Santa Barbara. Find him taking walks around town; he is always looking for story tips.