Evicted from UC Berkeley: Lack of spousal rights in the university housing system

university village
Andrew Kuo/File

Undoubtedly, the housing crisis has made finding fair housing in the Bay Area all the more rare. Priscilla Wilson, who moved from Los Angeles to support her wife’s academic pursuits, believed she was one of the few lucky residents to find an affordable, safe home with the university’s family housing complex.

This was not the case, however, as she was abruptly evicted and left homeless soon after making the decision to separate from her spouse.

UC Berkeley offers students who are married or have children the option to live in Family Student Housing, commonly known as University Village.

The situation seemed ideal. Wilson and her spouse would live in a two-bedroom unit for $1,730 per month — a cost significantly lower than the median rent of $2,800 for a two-bedroom in Berkeley. University Village also provided a pleasant community space for tenants, along with an easy commute to UC Berkeley’s main campus.

But after suffering a tumultuous and abusive marriage, Wilson made the decision to file for divorce. She was immediately confronted with another distressing reality when she was abruptly informed by her former partner — without any prior notice — that she would need to vacate her apartment within 24 hours.

Her ex-partner had taken her off the leasing contract, forcing Wilson to vacate their once-shared home and find housing in one of the most expensive housing markets in the world.

… she was abruptly informed by her former partner — without any prior notice — that she would need to vacate her apartment within 24 hours.

Wilson was confounded by the terms of her eviction. Not only had she had always paid her share of rent, her former spouse was only eligible to live at University Village based on the condition that she was married, had children, or lived with a dependent, according to the eligibility guidelines on UC Berkeley’s housing website. Without Wilson, she no longer met the conditions for tenancy.

According to University Village’s rental contract, tenants have the right to receive 30 days’ notice if their lease agreement is terminated based on changes in eligibility.

After her eviction, Wilson decided to speak to Cephas John, the leasing and assignment manager of UC Berkeley residential and student services, to obtain a copy of the new lease agreement. She wanted to ensure that she was no longer liable for any changes to the apartment and to understand why she was being evicted.

However, the conversation did not answer any of Wilson’s inquiries.

“He started saying all these inappropriate things to me and challenging me on what I did in my marriage that was wrong,” Wilson said of her exchange with John. “(He) was saying all this personal stuff that was very out of line for a professional conversation I was hoping to have about the lease.”

Not only did John refuse to provide Wilson with documentation of the lease agreement despite agreeing on the phone to do so, he continued to push Wilson on details of her personal life.

“It just felt so wrong how much he knew about what happened between me and my partner at the time and secondly basically shamed me,” Wilson expressed.

Afterward, Wilson decided to take further action and speak to John’s supervisor, UC Berkeley’s associate director of housing assignments, Dana Bache. Wilson met with Bache and a human resources representative. The interaction also did not lead to any explanations that Wilson had been seeking.

“Ultimately, neither of them could tell me how the rental agreement had changed and how my spouse was still able to live there while I never had any notice or protection against my living there,” Wilson said. “Basically, I had no rights because I wasn’t a student at Berkeley.”

The lack of protection for former tenants is not singular to Wilson.

In 2013, Milanca Lopez, a resident of University Village, filed reports of domestic abuse to Cephas John — the same leasing and assignment manager Wilson had reached out to. John failed to report Lopez’s case to the authorities.

Lopez and her 6-year-old son were later killed in a car accident. The very boyfriend whom she reached out about was in the driver’s seat, operating the vehicle while under the influence.

In regard to the cases of Wilson and Lopez and UC Berkeley’s general housing policies on spouses and evictions, the Division of Student Affairs declined to comment.

Moving forward, Wilson expresses that she believes that one resident should not have more privilege over the other simply based on their status as a university student.

“Basically, I had no rights because I wasn’t a student at Berkeley.”

— Priscilla Wilson

“It takes two to tango,” Wilson said. “They were willing to change the rental agreement for my spouse and accommodate her but did nothing for me.”

Wilson stresses that the neglect by the university to address spousal and families’ housing rights emphasizes its failure not only to provide enough housing for students — an issue for which UC Berkeley has been under intense scrutiny  — but to provide safe housing.

She further conveyed that the lack of explicit codes and protection of spousal rights in the housing and rental contract must be remedied by the university.

“People divorce, families fall apart,” Wilson stated. “Anywhere else that you broke up with your partner, your partner can’t just kick you out. … There are rental laws for a reason. There are notices for a reason.”

As of now, the only policy regarding nonstudent tenants in the rental contract states that they are “equally bound” to the housing policies that UC Berkeley student tenants must adhere to. Yet, in spite of nonstudent tenants being held equally accountable to housing policies, by Wilson’s account, they are deprived of equal protection.

After constantly moving around in an attempt to find a new home, Wilson eventually settled into new housing — one that unfortunately is close to where her former partner lives.

In spite of the turmoil and instability Wilson has endured, she expressed that she is lucky to have been able to leave an abusive marriage and have just enough resources and a support system that helped her find a new home in the middle of one of the worst housing crisis.

 

Contact Katrina Fadrilan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @katfadrilanDC.