Berkeley’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium expired Thursday, ending more than three years of eviction protections for tenants economically impacted by the pandemic.
Protected reasons for rent non-payment included decreased income due to COVID-19 or government pandemic response, increased caregiving responsibilities and COVID-19-related medical expenses, according to the City of Berkeley’s website.
Berkeley City Council decided to phase out the moratorium in two stages. From March 21 to April 30, the “Covered Period” prevented all evictions, except those necessary for safety. From then until Aug. 31, the “Transition Period” only allowed for evictions due to failure to pay rent for non-COVID-19 related reasons.
“Over the last three and a half years, the eviction moratorium has helped protect the most vulnerable tenants from facing an eviction during the public health emergency,” said Stefan Elgstrand, assistant to Mayor Jesse Arreguín and a commissioner on Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Board, in an email.
By slowly reinstating evictions, the City Council intended to eliminate a surge of newly unhoused residents, according to Elgstrand.
He referenced data collected from the Alameda County Superior Court that revealed 707 new eviction lawsuits were filed between June and May of 2023.
The Rent Stabilization Board, or RSB, sent out three rounds of mail alerts to every tenant and landlord in Berkeley of the moratorium’s ending, according to RSB Chair Leah Simon-Weisberg.
These alerts included contact information for resources to help those facing eviction in the coming weeks, including the Eviction Defense Center, the Housing Retention Program and the California Mortgage Relief Program.
“Berkeley has done a great job of ensuring that we are continuing to provide rental assistance,” Simon-Weisberg said. “But remember that there was a housing affordability crisis before the pandemic, and there continues to be one now. Rents are still too high.”
Simon-Weisberg stated that she expects to see many people facing eviction after the moratorium ends as a result of the affordable housing crisis and not just the impacts of COVID-19.
However, Simon-Weisberg expressed a need for more tenant protections on future ballots, and ongoing subsidies to build affordable housing are expected to surface next year in response to the housing crisis.
She also argued the high cost of UC Berkeley dorms contributes to high rents in surrounding areas, calling on the Board of Regents to lower the price of student housing.
“If you want to lower the rent prices, lower the price of the dorms,” Simon-Weisberg said.
The end of the moratorium will impact tenants, but property owners are also feeling the effects of the three-year eviction hold, according to Krista Gulbransen, executive director of the Berkeley Property Owners Association, or BPOA.
Gulbransen noted small rental housing providers are in “financial straits” after not receiving rent payments in three years due to the moratorium’s stipulations.
“We are constantly in a battle where wages don’t meet cost of living, yet the rental housing providers are the ones made to bear the burden of that wealth gap,” Gulbransen said in an email. “We predict a wave of small rental housing providers leaving the Berkeley market and bigger investment firms coming in to purchase those properties.”