Community members gathered Tuesday in front of Freehouse Berkeley to protest the Berkeley Property Owners Association, or BPOA, celebrating the end of the COVID-19 eviction moratorium.
The moratorium ended Aug. 31, mostly affecting low-income renters disproportionately made up of Black and Indigenous communities, according to Lukas Carbone, campus student and organizing stewart for Tenant And Neighborhood Councils, or TANC, Berkeley Local.
“(The party is) quite disgusting, but at the same time, it provides a level of clarity to people about who landlords really are and what they really stand for,” Carbone said. “What they are fundamentally is a group that’s trying to evict people and put them out on the street and they’re very happy about that.”
BPOA did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.
Through this protest, Carbone said, TANC hopes to fight against the alleged “horrible abuse of tenants” and gentrification across the Bay Area. He encouraged other renters to get involved in the Berkeley Tenants Union to stand united against high rent costs, landlord harassment, below-par living conditions and issues recovering security deposit.
Physical altercations between protesters and attendees at the BPOA party were reported, according to a joint statement by Councilmembers Terry Taplin, Mark Humbert and Rashi Kesarwani. The statement labeled these reports as “deeply disturbing” and against the city’s values.
The joint statement also condemned the party itself, noting that it may be seen as “callous and insensitive” to residents facing houselessness.
“As we come out of the pandemic and years of isolation and hardship, we should move forward together in the spirit of productive collaboration,” the statement reads. “We cannot accomplish this by doubling down on divisions between us.”
Paola Laverde, one of the protestors and a Berkeley Tenants Union member, said the end of the moratorium may cause the eviction of older tenants who lost their jobs during the pandemic.
She noted many may “never recover” from this job loss.
“We’re here because evictions kill people, evictions destroy people’s lives,” Laverde said. “It makes it really hard for people to be able to survive in our society today because housing is now a commodity … and so we’re here to express our dismay, our anger (and) disbelief that they are celebrating something which will impact people.”
While noting this protest will not prompt the return of another moratorium, Laverde hopes to call attention to the fact landlords will now be able to raise their rent prices.
Through the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which limits local governments’ ability to enact rent control, she said landlords could double or triple their rent prices without the protection of the moratorium.
Soli Alpert, vice chair of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, or RSB, explained the moratorium, which was one of the first in the state, has been “vital” in protecting tenants from houselesses.
He noted those who live in non-rent and eviction controlled properties will especially feel the impacts of the moratorium’s end.
“It’s important to understand that not every unit and not every tenant in the city of Berkeley has the same rights, which is really a shame,” Alpert said. “There are some people in golden duplexes, in single-family homes and in new construction, that are not afforded the same rights as tenants in other properties, so those are the ones who we are really worried about facing really serious repercussions to the end of the moratorium.”
Alpert said the RSB hopes to implement more protections for Berkeley tenants, explaining that voters can work to strengthen eviction and rent control laws during the 2024 election.
He also emphasized the RSB’s goals to ensure all tenants have access to attorneys and their rights protected.
“I’m all for landlords knowing what their rights and responsibilities are under the law,” Alpert said. “I’m all for landlords understanding how they can work with tenants. But holding a party – that really does exemplify the attitude of a lot of Berkeley landlords to their tenants, which is one of derision and of entitlement.”