Oakland Landlord On the Brink of Losing Duplex Due to Eviction Moratorium
In the Bay Area, Oakland is one of the last cities to uphold an eviction moratorium since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic — legislation that is now having unforseen consequences in the community.
While initially designed to protect renters during an economically unstable time, the moratorium is now having negative effects on mom-and-pop landlords. Many tenants are taking advantage of the policies in place, some even putting the livelihoods of their landlords at stake.
John Williams, Oakland resident and landlord, says he’s owed “$56,000 over the last three years” from his tenant in unpaid rent. That debt is enough to put him at risk of losing the duplex he’s called home for two decades. Despite his efforts to secure his retirement by renting out the lower unit, he now faces foreclosure at the end of the month due to the non-paying tenant.
Many citizens assume that the landlord is always in a more financially stable situation than the tenant, but this isn’t always the case, especially after 36 months of eviction moratorium.
For the last ten years, Williams’ tenant had paid $1,500 every month for the three-bedroom, one-bathroom space, although her payments were often late or her checks bounced. In March 2020, payments ceased entirely.
Williams described the situation as “…an absolute endless nightmare.” He criticized the lack of options for landlords to recoup lost funds. “It’s ridiculous that we’re put in this situation for three years, with no conversation, or any kind of dialogue on how do we recapture our funds, other than we have to go to court to do that, or chase them or lose the money.”
The ongoing debacle has taken a toll on Williams’ health. “I couldn’t stand for nine months,” he explained. Living on disability, he is still unable to work. Willliams’ livelihood depends on his income from the tenant, and without a single payment in over 3 years, his housing security in in jeopardy.
During this time, Williams has documented several problems concerning the tenant and the living situation.
Despite never providing evidence of COVID-related hardship, the tenant has lived rent-free with her two children at the property since 2020. Williams has also uncovered evidence of the tenant running a storage and transportation business, as well as a local massage business, from the address.
When contacted by local news outlet KPIX, the tenant confirmed her identity but refused to comment on her rent situation, abruptly ending the call.
Currently, Oakland landlords are barred from evicting tenants over COVID-related rent debt. Williams has even attempted to sell his property but was thwarted by the tenant’s occupancy.
He has also offered to forgive the back rent if the tenant agreed to move out, but she declined.
Williams expressed his support for tenant protections but points out the holes in the legislation. “I’m totally here for the tenant protections, but when it’s unlawful such as this case is, I think that should be a reasoning to remove any protections for anyone.”
On Tuesday, April 18th, the Oakland City Council voted to phase out the eviction moratorium. For Williams and many others, time is running out; he faces uncertainty if he can’t raise the necessary funds by May 1st.
Unfortunately, a similar story is true for many Oakland landlords. Some have been forced to deplete their retirement savings in order to pay property taxes and cover mortgage payments. Word from Mayor Sheng Thao’s staff confirms that there is still no plan to reimburse landlords or save people like Williams from foreclosure.
Although Williams is still able to take legal action to resolve the matter, he explains that going through the legal system is costly and cumbersome. Last year, he joined a class-action lawsuit against Alameda County and the city of Oakland, claiming the eviction moratorium is “invalid, illegal, and unenforceable.” The lawsuit seeks an end to the moratorium and damages for landlords, but there has been no recent progress.
To Williams, this situation is “…a heavy burden to kind of bear every day – financially, emotionally and physically.”
Deciding when to end eviction moratoriums hasn’t been an easy decision for any city, and legislators face complaints from either side when they make any legislative decisions. Many renters still genuinely need help, and the pandemic protections have helped them stay afloat during uncertain times; however, some landlords don’t have the funds to support tenants over long periods of time.