The Mercury News

Eviction moratorium stays until end of April

Supervisor­s also defeat three tenant protection ordinances advocates backed

- By Ethan Varian evarian@bayareanew­

The Alameda County Board of Supervisor­s this week declined to stage a much-anticipate­d review of the county's ongoing eviction moratorium — a move that all but guarantees the pandemic tenant protection­s, among the last anywhere in the Bay Area, will remain in place until the end of April.

With dozens of landlords and tenant advocates in attendance at the public hearing Tuesday evening in Oakland, supervisor­s explained that regardless of whether there were enough votes to sunset the moratorium, the soonest the ban could stop taking effect was just a few days before it's already scheduled to lapse April 29. Supervisor­s said that meant there was little point in discussing it Tuesday.

Board members also refused to approve three tenant protection ordinances supported by local renter advocates. Earlier this year, the proposed regulation­s had appeared almost certain to pass.

Supervisor­s said they aimed to balance the concerns of rental owners exasperate­d by the nearly three-year eviction ban and the needs of tenants still reeling from the economic fallout of the pandemic and struggling to afford the region's high housing costs.

“We need to focus on the future and what that looks like, instead of continuing to stay in the ring and battling it out on this issue,” said Supervisor Keith Carson.

Ahead of Tuesday's hearing, landlord groups had ramped up pressure on supervisor­s to lift the eviction moratorium, which prevents most evictions countywide. They contend the ban long has outlived its purpose and is ruining the livelihood­s of many mom-and-pop rental owners.

One landlord, Jingyu Wu, even began a hunger strike Sunday. He says a tenant in his San Leandro triplex owes over $120,000 in back rent, leaving Wu, who's in his 50s, teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

Angel Perez, who owns an apartment complex in Oakland, said two of his tenants have accumulate­d over $12,000 in rent debt.

“I have tenants who haven't paid me for over a year,” Perez said outside the board chambers. “I'm going through hard times. And I want them to stop this moratorium because my whole family is suffering.”

On Tuesday, the board revealed the soonest it could end the ban is April 27 — two days before the eviction restrictio­ns are set to lapse, in conjunctio­n with the expiration of the county's local COVID-19 emergency.

Supervisor David Haubert, who initially had supported acting to end the restrictio­ns, said he was frustrated the planned review of the emergency ordinance had been previously delayed multiple times.

“Now it seems rather moot if we put this item on a future agenda,” Haubert said.

One of those delays came in January when activists with Oakland-based Moms 4 Housing shut down a supervisor­s' meeting while demanding the board pass the three ordinances to protect vulnerable tenants in unincorpor­ated areas before the moratorium expires. “Tenant protection­s are a racial justice issue,” Moms 4 Housing member Sameerah Karim said Tuesday in a statement.

At the urging of landlords who opposed the regulation­s, supervisor­s took the somewhat rare move of sending the ordinances back for significan­t revisions after the board had already approved them in an initial vote last year.

The makeup of the board has changed since that earlier vote. Newly elected Supervisor Lena Tam, who with other members abstained from voting on the three measures, took her seat this year. Supervisor Richard Valle died last month.

The ordinances would have prevented landlords from screening prospectiv­e tenants based on their criminal histories, created a registry of rental properties and expanded “just cause” eviction protection­s to more renters. Just cause ordinances restrict landlords to evicting tenants only for specific reasons, including failing to pay rent or damaging property.

Tuesday's meeting came as much of the core Bay Area has seen a dramatic surge in eviction lawsuits after most pandemic tenant protection­s expired last year, according to a Bay Area News Group analysis of court data. But in Alameda County, the eviction moratorium, dating back to March 2020, has kept cases at historic lows.

In anticipati­on of a potential wave of eviction filings in Alameda County, supervisor­s asked county staffers to identify additional federal and state emergency funding for rental assistance and “other out-of-the-box approaches” to help struggling landlords and renters.

Even after the county's eviction ban expires, other moratorium­s could continue shielding renters in a handful of cities.

Oakland recently extended its strict eviction protection­s through March and could decide to prolong them again. The Berkeley City Council, meanwhile, extended its moratorium for many renters through August. San Leandro extended its eviction ban until February of next year, though the City Council plans to review the protection­s every 90 days.

Multiple landlords, however, have sued to end the overlappin­g eviction protection­s in Oakland and the county as soon as possible. A federal appeals judge could make a decision in the coming days or weeks.

Before the meeting, Ruth Morales, a 19-year-old who lives with her parents in an apartment in Hayward, said that no matter what supervisor­s decided, she planned to keep joining advocates to push for more support for lower-income renters throughout the county.

“I want to protect the people,” Morales said, “not just myself, but my family, my people.”

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