The city of Berkeley’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium expired yesterday and is now entering its “Transition Period.”
The moratorium was established by the Berkeley City Council in March 2020 as an immediate response to the shelter-in-place ordinance enacted during the COVID-19 state of emergency. According to Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board commissioner and assistant to the mayor Stefan Elgstrand, the moratorium was essential for public health and to prevent “unnecessary displacement” and homelessness.
“Many tenants, especially those who worked in service industries, were financially impacted by the pandemic,” Elgstrand said in an email. “The moratorium, coupled with additional financial assistance, helped prevent vulnerable residents from being evicted in the middle of the greatest international public health crisis in a century.”
In a recent press release, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín laid out the framework for the moratorium’s transition period, which began May 1 and will last until Aug. 31.
During this period, some evictions are permitted.
“Evictions can proceed for non-payment of rent unless the tenant provides documentation of a COVID-related reason for failing to pay the rent,” the press release states. “Evictions can also commence for owner move-ins. A tenant cannot be evicted for non-payment of rent that happened before May 1st, but a landlord can take civil action to recover unpaid rent.”
This phasing plan intends to provide ample time and financial resources for both tenants and owners. Berkeley City Council claims to have already taken steps to increase funding for the Berkeley Housing Retention Program, which allocates up to $15,000 in grants for households at risk of eviction due to nonpayment of rent, according to the press release.
Berkeley Property Owners Association executive director Krista Gulbransen emphasized the importance of providing financial assistance for those in need.
“The best way to keep people in their homes is to provide them with financial assistance if they need it. Berkeley had a specific rent relief program in addition to working with the county for state relief money,” Gulbransen said. “When (the Berkeley Property’s Association) were able to put (the Eviction Defense Center) in touch with the tenant and the landlord to create rent relief, it helped everybody.”
However, Gulbransen went on to reveal the lack of funding available to Berkeley residents.
The city of Berkeley received $300,000 in funding for Berkeley tenants, but went through the money quickly, she noted.
“There’s so much rent debt out there that there’s not enough money to cover the actual debt,” Gulbransen said. “Plus, not everybody’s debt is qualified for relief. You have to meet certain requirements because it’s intended for people living on the edge (who) can’t afford to pay the rent that month.”
A recent report from the Alameda Housing and Economic Development Department reported that 75% of people who applied to receive rent relief did not qualify due to their sizable incomes.
The eviction moratorium, including the transition period, officially expires Sept. 1, ending all state and local pandemic eviction protections.
“This (moratorium) was intended for people who could not pay rent because they were impacted by the government shutdown,” Gulbransen said. “We have people that have gamed the system and have just chosen to not pay rent. We need to take care of them.”