Editor’s note: An initial version of this story was posted at 7 p.m. on Sept. 12 and it was last updated on Sept. 14.
Physical fights erupted at a protest of the Berkeley Property Owners Association’s (BPOA) celebration of the end of the eviction moratorium on Tuesday.
About 100 advocates from the Tenant and Neighborhood Councils (TANC), Berkeley Tenants Union and other groups gathered outside the Freehouse Pub on Bancroft Way at around 5 p.m. to picket the private event, which was open only to members of the BPOA.
Chants of “See our might, see our power, landlords get no happy hour,” and “Get up, get down, f*ck the landlords in Freehouse,” rung out on Bancroft Way, as supporting passersby honked their car horns and others stopped to debate with protesters.
Landlords entering the party were greeted with shouts of “Parasite!” and “Get a job!” Some attendees stopped in front of the venue and engaged with protesters, while others laughed at the crowd and entered the venue smiling.
On the College Avenue sidewalk, one protester and a landlord seemed to be in earnest dialogue.
“I understand what you’re saying, but I’m telling you not to attend this specific event — because it celebrates that people can be evicted,” the protester said. The persuasion was unsuccessful, and the landlord eventually moved forward into the venue to loud boos and jeers.
Inside the pub, about two dozen landlords shared drinks and appetizers and swapped stories about their experiences during the pandemic. It was a modest affair, and the loud chants of the protesters, who were about 1,000 feet away, could be heard be heard in the background.
About an hour into the rally, the picketers entered the venue in a stream and began circling around the patio where the landlords were gathered inside the pub. Witnesses said the picketing went on for about a minute and a half before tensions flared and multiple fights broke out.
Witnesses said a male attendee of the BPOA event then slapped a female TANC member in the face and pushed her. Another video shows a protester knock eyeglasses off the head of someone who appears to be a party attendee. Another man who appears to be a party attendee then swings a punch at the protester.
BPOA President Krista Gulbransen said she didn’t witness who began the skirmish, but videos show Gulbransen being shoved when she stepped in to interrupt one physical altercation. She said she then stepped out to request the presence of the police, who had been observing the protest, but they refused to enter the pub.
“(When protesters entered) I went around and told our members to remain quiet, and peaceful and not engage — and they didn’t,” Gulbransen said. “The protesters got in the face of some, and I don’t know how it went down from there, but next thing I know people are shoving each other.”
Minutes after violence broke out, the picketers left the space. BPOA members remained at the venue for a short while after.
On Wednesday, three Berkeley councilmembers — Terry Taplin, Mark Humbert and Rashi Kesarwani — put out a statement denouncing the violence.
“The reports of physical altercations between protesters and event attendees yesterday were deeply disturbing, and antithetical to Berkeley’s values,” read the statement. “We must note that hosting a party at a pub to celebrate the end of the eviction moratorium may be seen as callous and insensitive to the thousands of Alameda County residents facing housing precarity or homelessness, regardless of individual hardships faced by small property owners during a temporary emergency period.”
Original story, Sept. 11: Local landlords in Berkeley are gathering this week for a private party to celebrate the end of the eviction moratorium, saying the pandemic caused them undue stress and left them with a lack of control over their properties.
The party is being hosted by the Berkeley Property Owners Association on Tuesday at Freehouse Pub.
Landlords and their representatives say the eviction moratorium singled them out, caused them to lose months upon months of rent and subjected them to some tenants who took advantage of the fact they couldn’t be evicted for nonpayment — even in cases when their nonpayment wasn’t related to the pandemic.
Some tenant advocates, who championed eviction protections for renters, say the celebration is in poor taste as local communities are still struggling to recover from pandemic setbacks. This month Berkeley became the last city in the county to sunset its moratorium; neighboring areas that ended their moratoriums earlier have seen a “tsunami” of eviction cases. The homelessness and housing crisis also continues to worsen in Alameda County and the Bay Area.
Before the pandemic, evictions of any kind were allowed in Berkeley at properties that don’t fall under the jurisdiction of the city’s Rent Board. The Rent Board either partially or fully covers about 26,000 units, meaning they get additional “good cause” eviction protections. Many “good cause” evictions were also banned through much of the pandemic.
When Berkeley instituted its eviction moratorium in March 2020, all evictions were banned except for those under the Ellis Act (when a landlord essentially goes out of business) and those related to health and safety concerns.
The pandemic moratorium applied to all of the rental properties in the city. A transition period beginning in May opened up a category of evictions if landlords wanted to move into an occupied unit or if tenants hadn’t paid rent for a reason unrelated to the pandemic.
Though evictions for past due rent during the pandemic are not allowed, all landlords were allowed during the transition period to start filing cases in small claims court up to $10,000 for nonpayment of rent.
As of Sept. 1, the moratorium has been fully lifted and the rules have returned to what they were pre-pandemic.
BPOA president Krista Gulbransen said the landlord lobby’s members reported thousands of dollars in lost rental income due to tenants who either didn’t qualify for rental assistance, and didn’t apply, or “took advantage” of COVID protections. BPOA has about 750 members and represents one portion of the landlords in Berkeley.
“We make no qualms about celebrating the end of the eviction moratorium,” Gulbransen said. “We are celebrating the end of the tenants who could have paid rent, and chose not to.”
Berkeleyside requested to attend the party, but BPOA said the event is a members-only gathering.
There is no data currently available at the local or county level to track how much money landlords lost in rental income during the pandemic. Berkeley approved over $5 million in rental relief that has been disbursed to landlords, according to the Eviction Defense Center, and another $1.5 million is on the way.
Rent Board chair Leah Simon-Weisberg said the BPOA’s claims that many tenants took advantage of the moratorium to get a free apartment are not reflective of reality. Thousands of renters who were on the verge of homelessness were able to stay in their homes, she noted. And she said small claims filings in Berkeley so far indicate much smaller rental debt than the thousands of dollars in missing rent that some landlords allege.
She said it’s “self-involved” to celebrate the end of the moratorium when billions of dollars in state rental relief dollars went to supporting residential landlords, in addition to legal aid and renter resources. The same protections were not extended to commercial tenants or property owners.
“It’s just very insensitive to what people are facing. We weren’t able to help restaurants and stores because we couldn’t pass a moratorium on commercial properties,” Simon-Weisberg said. “We’ve lost a lot of legacy, wonderful businesses.”
She also noted that Los Angeles, which sunsetted its eviction moratorium earlier than Alameda County, has since seen a sharp spike in homelessness.
Simon-Weisberg said she thought it would be a more productive use of property owners’ time to push back against corporate landlords, and the large chunk of public rent relief money that went to large property groups — instead of small property owners who needed the money.
Landlords say the eviction moratorium was too broad
Carol Curtis, a landlord of over 20 years in Berkeley, owns nine units near the UC Berkeley campus. During the pandemic, she said a tenant moved into her property and began creating hazardous conditions for his roommates — including purchasing a bow and arrow and using it around the home in a way that made the roommates fear for their safety.
She said the five-bedroom duplex eventually cleared out because of the tenant, who was experiencing serious mental health issues. He remained in the home and his actions over the next year warranted a police response numerous times.
She said he stopped paying rent in June 2022 because he couldn’t shoulder the rent for the entire duplex. Evictions for health and safety reasons have been allowed throughout the moratorium, but Curtis said her lawyer advised that it may be a serious challenge when the conditions first began. She eventually filed a health and safety eviction in March and it was processed last week when he was made to leave the home.
Curtis went without a year of rent on the property, and though she said she was able to weather it financially, it was a huge source of stress and it may take her additional months to restore the home to its former condition.
Like Gulbransen, she said the moratorium would have been more effective if only people directly impacted by COVID were exempt from eviction due to “nonpayment of rent.” Though she had the recourse of the health and safety eviction in this specific case, she said evicting a tenant for nonpayment of rent is simpler.
“I’m a landlord who reduced people’s rent during the pandemic. I was sharing the pain, so to speak, with some of my tenants who requested it,” Curtis said. “That tenant was not impacted by COVID. His nonpayment of rent didn’t have anything to do with COVID. There should have been some kind of mechanism to sort out these people who were taking advantage of this system.”
She said she’s attending the eviction moratorium celebration party to network with other landlords and learn from their experiences in navigating similar situations. She also lamented the lack of social safety net for tenants who get evicted, and questioned why sheriff’s deputies aren’t able to direct evicted tenants to shelters or resources during evictions.
Gulbransen said landlords don’t want to move through eviction proceedings any more than tenants, and evictions are needed as “a carrot we hold over someone to get them to pay the rent.” She said the eviction moratorium took away this ability for landlords.
Renters are still experiencing the ongoing impacts of the pandemic
In response to stories like Curtis’, Simon-Weisberg said she believes evictions should be difficult, and eviction protections guard tenants from dangerous situations.
The local impacts of the eviction moratorium ending are not yet clear in Berkeley, because landlords have only been able to file evictions for just over a week. But evictions have been abundant in other parts of Alameda County, where tenants are lining up for help.
Anne Omura, executive director of the Eviction Defense Center, which disbursed Berkeley’s rent relief funds, said renters who are seniors are among those impacted most by the lifted protections.
She said almost a third of tenants whose landlords received rental assistance on their behalf were seniors.
The majority still can’t work because their age puts them at risk for COVID-19 exposure and infection, she added, and many seniors in their late 70s and 80s are still suffering from the financial impacts of the pandemic.
“We speak to elderly tenants every day who had small odd jobs [driving cars or bartending] to supplement their social security and help them make the rent. When COVID hit, those jobs for seniors disappeared,” Omura said.
Update, Sept. 12: The Tenant and Neighborhood Councils advocacy group is picketing the Berkeley Property Owners Association’s party Tuesday.
“In a time when rents are already sky-high and the cost of living is soaring, BPOA’s decision to celebrate regaining the power to evict people sends a violent message to struggling
working-class tenants,” TANC said in a press release, calling the party “out of touch” and “deeply cruel.”
The demonstration will take place at 2700 Bancroft Way, in front of Freehouse Pub, from 5:15-7:30 p.m.
Featured photo: Berkeley Property Owners Association and Pete Rosos
Correction: The Rent Board oversees about 26,000 units in either fully covered or partially covered capacity, not 3,000.