Berkeley landlords struggle because of pandemic, UC Berkeley distance learning

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Sunny Shen/File
With the city of Berkeley's eviction moratorium and UC Berkeley's plans for online instruction, local landlords are facing financial difficulties.

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Many apartments throughout Berkeley sit empty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused difficulties in the process of renting out new units and a severe loss of income to some landlords.

While housing problems caused by the pandemic have had widespread effects, Berkeley landlords now face the unique issue of filling units without the usual number of UC Berkeley students returning in the fall, according to Krista Gulbransen, executive director of the Berkeley Property Owners Association, or BPOA. The BPOA provides education and guidance mostly for smaller landlords.

“Berkeley is very much impacted by UC Berkeley from all angles, whether it is rental housing or small businesses,” Gulbransen said.

According to Gulbransen, while some landlords are continuing as usual, others face serious income loss — either because their tenants are students not returning to campus or because tenants are not paying rent and are protected under the current eviction moratorium.

Because of the moratorium, a landlord cannot terminate a tenancy for any reason, Gulbransen said. The order will likely stay in place as long as the city of Berkeley is under shelter-in-place orders.

“Property owners rely on prompt rental payments to meet their expenses for mortgage, taxes, maintenance, and to pay their employees and vendors,” said the East Bay Rental Housing Association in a statement. “Indefinite delay of rental payments creates economic hardship.”

Landlords and apartment buildings have also had to make many accommodations for showing units because of the pandemic. Gulbransen said many landlords are conducting virtual showings and only doing in-person tours for customers who show strong interest in a unit.

These in-person showings are only conducted for two people from the same household at a time. People touring are also asked not to touch anything, and door handles and other objects in the unit are disinfected, Gulbransen added.

Even though rents have not dropped much, several of the city’s larger apartment complexes are offering deals in attempts to increase business — some are advertising six or eight weeks of free rent.

Despite this, the BPOA has noticed an increase in interested clients in Berkeley, which is attributed to residents of San Francisco or other larger cities who are moving to the East Bay for more outdoor space or access to nearby parks, according to Gulbransen.

“We see more vacancies in Berkeley, but we also are seeing an uptick of people interested in units,” Gulbransen said. “One of the nice things about the East Bay, and Berkeley specifically, is that there is a lot of open space.”

Contact Clara Brownstein at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @clarabrownstein.