Apartments in Berkeley on March 1, 2021. Credit: Pete Rosos

Update: The City Council voted Monday night to extend the eviction moratorium past the state and local state of emergency. It will expire on Aug. 31.

It will expire in tiers. The council decided Monday that the first set of property owners allowed to evict tenants can file a 60-day notice Wednesday. This is restricted to owners of only one building that plan to move into the property.

Beginning May 1, property owners can initiate evictions for non-payment of rent under reasons not covered by the COVID-19 moratorium.

This will lead into a transition period that ends Aug. 31, with all good cause evictions (at properties under Rent Board jurisdiction) allowed by September 1.

Original story, Feb. 24: Berkeley’s eviction moratorium, which began in March 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, will likely be extended past the city, Alameda County and California’s state of emergency, which is set to expire next week.

The Alameda County eviction moratorium covers Berkeley residents and will remain in place until at least May 1 (60 days after the state of emergency ends). Berkeley may extend its eviction protections to September to ensure a slow transition.

The first evictions allowed in Berkeley in May would be at commercial properties and owner move-in situations where the owner has only one rental property, according to a proposal the City Council will vote on during a special meeting Monday.

Property owners can serve eviction notices beginning in May.

The city will have a four-month “transition period” until Aug. 31, when other types of evictions remain prohibited. This does not include evictions for “health and safety” reasons, which were allowed even under the eviction moratorium.

Leah Simon-Weisberg, Rent Stabilization Board chair, said the intention is to ease the potential legal burden of eviction notices while allowing tenants and property owners to adjust to the end of local and state emergency orders and subsequent loss of resources.

“We’re trying to open the faucet a little bit,” she said. “We don’t want so much water coming in that there’s an immediate flood.”

Krista Gulbransen, executive director of the Berkeley Property Owner’s Association, pushed back against the extended transition period, saying small landlords need an immediate end to the moratorium. She claimed that some tenants have “wreaked havoc” on landlords and have not paid rent even when able.

“It’s time to eradicate the continued damage being done and usher in some fairness and relief for small owners,” Gulbransen said.

There’s also an urgency item on the City Council agenda for Tuesday that could add $300,000 to the Housing Retention Fund, which ran out of rental assistance dollars for low-income residents this month and is overseen by the Eviction Defense Center based in Oakland.

It’s expensive to rehouse people, Simon-Weisberg said, and housing retention grants aim to avoid drawn-out legal battles and keep people where they are.

Berkeley has permanent “good cause” eviction protections for about 26,000 properties that fall under full or have partial coverage with the Rent Board. This includes old properties that are rent-controlled and newer properties that are not.

But the pandemic eviction moratorium extended to other tenancies, like those at Golden Duplexes and ADUs attached to an owner-occupied home.

One Central Berkeley golden duplex resident who spoke to Berkeleyside on condition of anonymity said she’s been couch-surfing since mid-January when her bedroom flooded after the storms, but her landlord failed to make adequate repairs or cover the expenses of moving her belongings.

After multiple additional requests for repairs, she said her landlord told her in early February to move out of the apartment. If the eviction moratorium is lifted, her unit will not be covered by “good cause” protections, and she will have to relocate.

“Have I spent, at this point, literally hundreds of hours worrying about this? Calling people on the phone, being super stressed out, not sleeping? Yeah, I’ve spent way too much time on this issue,” said the tenant, who shared images of extensive flooding and mold damage with Berkeleyside.

She said her primary concern is to ensure another tenant doesn’t experience the same conditions, and she’s likely taking the case to small claims court. But the situation has been so stressful that she will probably leave, whether it’s ultimately through eviction or not.

“I don’t think I could live there anymore in the future because, after this experience, I never want to live in a golden duplex again,” she said, emphasizing that a lack of Rent Board services for the property means she and her landlord are both left without venues for help.

As COVID-era protections end, long-lasting health effects of the pandemic are a concern

Aerial view of downtown Berkeley from Study Hall bar, July 28, 2022. Credit: Tracey Taylor

A Northeast Berkeley resident, who also asked for anonymity due to concerns of retaliation from her landlord, has been stretching her monthly $1,600 Social Security Disability Income, savings and some additional funds to make her rent in a $2,500 one-bedroom apartment.

She said she is immunocompromised, and fled a South Berkeley rent-controlled apartment in January 2021 that she had lived in for 30 years due to unaddressed mold threatening her health. She successfully applied for a housing retention grant but hasn’t gotten additional financial support from the city or county.

“Every month, I choose between rent, PPE (personal protective equipment) and food … and rent usually wins out,” she said. “Every month, I’m in the negatives, and I just can’t do it anymore.”

She said the thought of becoming homeless has taken a serious toll on her mental health, and she wouldn’t survive if that happened.

Finding new housing during the pandemic was a terrifying process for her, and she said she couldn’t do it again while immunocompromised. She is dreading the end of the eviction moratorium.

Others like her who lost their ability to work during the pandemic or are still struggling with the impacts of long COVID are at acute risk if eviction protections expire, according to Sasha Perigo, strategic communications manager for the East Bay Housing Organizations advocacy organization.

In neighboring areas like Contra Costa County and Solano County, where pandemic eviction protections ended last year, Perigo said evictions skyrocketed to rates around 40% above pre-pandemic numbers, with Black residents facing evictions at a significantly higher rate.

Alameda County has managed to keep evictions about six times under the average with its moratorium, Perigo said, and advocates are pushing for strategies to maintain these levels when protections expire.

This includes a push for guaranteed counsel in eviction proceedings, which was approved as Proposition F in San Francisco in 2018. She said since it was implemented, 67% of people in proceedings were able to stay in their homes, including 80% of Black residents.

“Berkeley is lucky compared to other cities in the county because they do have good resources, but ensuring a legal right to a representative … makes a significant difference,” Perigo said, adding that subsidized housing where the city pays directly into a portion of tenants’ rent is another strong tool to support residents, especially those on fixed incomes or with disabilities.

In the transition period between May 1 and the end of the eviction moratorium, the Berkeley Rent Board is prioritizing outreach and bolstering counseling so tenants and landlords understand what resources are available and how the process will change in the months to come.

“What our success looks like in Berkeley is that very few people were evicted, our homelessness counts didn’t increase, our [COVID-19] death rates are low,” Simon-Weisberg said. “We can continue that by doing a slow step-down of our protections so we can do one group at a time … so that legal services aren’t overwhelmed from one day to the next.”

This story has been updated.

Supriya Yelimeli is a housing and homelessness reporter for Berkeleyside and joined the staff in May 2020 after contributing reporting since 2018 as a freelance writer. Yelimeli grew up in Fremont and...