Alameda moves to protect renters during COVID-19 crisis, enacts 60-day moratorium on evictions

Alameda officials approved a 60-day emergency moratorium on evictions, along with a prohibition on landlords shutting off utilities as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

The moratorium is tied to a state declaration of emergency, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed last week. The city council could return in 60 days to renew the moratorium if the situation in Alameda, the state, and nation, remains the same or worsens.

Under the moratorium approved by Alameda councilmembers, 4-1, tenants will need to provide evidence the coronavirus crisis impugned on their ability to pay rent.

For instance, if 20 percent of their monthly gross income has been reduced because of the outbreak, or, if the tenant’s household incurs exorbitant medical costs related to treating the virus, or if the tenant faces “extraordinary childcare needs.” Each instance will be a defense against a landlord filing an unlawful detainer against its tenant for non-payment, Alameda City Attorney Yibin Shen said.

Tuesday night’s move by the Alameda City Council ensures that “people are not going to lose their homes,” Alameda Councilmember Jim Oddie said.

As the coronavirus outbreak grips the nation, in particular, the Greater Bay Area, which is under a three-week shelter in place order, an extreme anxiety persists among residents for the health and well-being of themselves, friends, and loved ones, but vestiges of Alameda’s long-running political conflicts between landlords and tenants still remained on Tuesday night.

Alameda Councilmember Tony Daysog, a strong supporter of property owners, voted against the 60-day emergency moratorium because it lacked specifics for how landlords would be made whole. “I don’t see enough mechanisms for how this works,” Daysog said.

He attempted to include language in the emergency moratorium that would encourage tenants to notify their landlords that they cannot pay the full amount of their rent. “You still have an obligation to figure things out with your landlord,” he said.

If no agreement on a payment plan can be made, then operative parts of moratorium would come into play, he added. “This is not just a crisis for tenants, but small mom and pop landlords as well,” Daysog said.

Daysog’s proposal, however, would be too unwieldy for the city staff, currently under more stress than usual, to administer, Alameda Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft said. It would have also been potentially difficult for tenants with absentee property owners. “Not all landlords are down the street or down the hall,” Ashcraft said. “There could be complications.”

Alameda officials, nevertheless, provided direction to city staff to bring back proposals at a future meeting for how tenants would later pay back their landlords. One possibility fleshed out by Councilmembers John Knox White and Daysog is for tenants who may struggle to pay full portions of their monthly rent during this period to be given up to six months to repay their landlords. The six-month window would begin whenever the state’s declaration of emergency is lifted.