COVID-19 pandemic raises concerns over rent payments, possible evictions

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Concerns over rent payments, possible evictions and increased housing insecurity in Berkeley have been raised in light of the COVID-19, colloquially known as the coronavirus, pandemic.

Six Bay Area counties, including Alameda County, announced a shelter-in-place order in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Amid deepening concerns over public health, the Berkeley City Council is expected to discuss possible emergency ordinances and relief funds in response to COVID-19 at its special meeting Wednesday.

City Councilmember Rigel Robinson said Mayor Jesse Arreguín, Councilmember Kate Harrison and himself are introducing an ordinance to protect renters from evictions during this state of emergency.

“Workers all over the country and right here in Berkeley are losing their incomes as a result of the necessary stay-at-home measures we need to limit the spread of the virus,” Robinson said in an email. “There should be no evictions in a public health crisis. We must keep people safe in their homes.”

Krista Gulbransen, executive director of the Berkeley Property Owners Association, or BPOA, said the organization’s first concern is to try to protect residents from displacement. BPOA supports an eviction moratorium for 60 days and the release of funds from Berkeley’s general fund to pay for tenant rent relief, according to Gulbransen.

Additionally, with classes at UC Berkeley moving online for the remainder of the spring semester, Gulbransen said some student tenants have requested to leave their leases early.

“We are advising owners to just work on a case by case basis with students because it really depends,” Gulbransen said.

Matthew Lewis, secretary for the Berkeley Tenants Union, said there could be a “perverse incentive” for landlords to evict tenants, as it enables rent prices to increase to the market rate.

The Berkeley Tenants Union appealed to the Berkeley City Council to ban evictions and foreclosures for at least the next 90 days in a press release Monday. The press release also states that tenants financially impacted by COVID-19 should not be required to pay the rent they would have been charged during a moratorium.

Tenants unable to work due to the shelter-in-place order and other COVID-19 prevention strategies will be unable to make up for the several months of missed rent payments, according to Lewis.

Soli Alpert, a commissioner on the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, said he expects City Council members will pass an order to prevent evictions at the special meeting.

“I think any landlord who is evicting a tenant right now needs to reevaluate what is going on,” Alpert said. “This is a public health crisis and we need everyone to stay indoors. Depriving someone of their home is the absolute worst thing you can do.”

Kaleo Mark is a schools and communities reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @kaleomark_dc.