ERIN ELMORE: ‘No Peace for Evictors’: tenants crash landlords’ party celebrating end of Covid-era eviction policy

Enraged Berkeley tenants protested a property owners’ private party celebrating the end of the city’s Eviction Moratorium, a COVID-era policy allowing occupants to live rent-free.

On Tuesday, protestors and members of the Berkeley Property Owners Association clashed outside of a Berkeley, California pub when tenants learned that landlords had planned a private event, “Fall Social Mixer: Celebrating the End of the Eviction Moratorium.”

Landlords and members of the property owners association felt it appropriate to celebrate the end of the COVID-era policy, which was the last in the nation to end, allowing tenants to stop paying their rent without fear of eviction for several years.

Local reports noted that there were approximately “100 uninvited guests” from the Tenant and Neighborhood Councils (TANC) and the Berkeley Tenants Union.

“Chants of ‘See our might, see our power, landlords get no happy hour,’ and ‘Get up, get down, f*ck the landlords in Freehouse,’ rung out on Bancroft Way, as supporting passersby honked their car horns and others stopped to debate with protesters.” Berkeley Side

As landlords entered the event, some protestors shouted “Parasite!” and “Get a job!” while others stopped for more sincere conversations with the property owners.

After about an hour, protestors followed the landlords into the private event, meeting them on the patio where drinks and appetizers were shared and COVID-19 horror stories were being swapped. Within minutes, witnesses said that physical fights broke out. BPOA President Krista Gulbransen attempted to step outside to call attention to the brawl, however police officers, who had been watching the protest unfold, reportedly refused to go into the bar.

“We make no qualms about celebrating the end of the eviction moratorium,” Gulbransen said. “We are celebrating the end of the tenants who could have paid rent, and chose not to.”

Gulbransen said that members of BPOA lost thousands of dollars in rental income “due to tenants who either didn’t qualify for rental assistance, and didn’t apply, or ‘took advantage’ of COVID protections.”

The city’s Eviction Moratorium was in effect from March 2020 through the end of April 2023, however, an additional “pandemic-related” extension was granted to Berkeley residents to protect them from eviction through August 31, 2023, with limited exceptions. Evictions were only allowed to proceed if landlords could prove that tenants posed a health or safety risk.

“I’m a landlord who reduced people’s rent during the pandemic. I was sharing the pain, so to speak, with some of my tenants who requested it,” one landlord told Berkeley Side. “There should have been some kind of mechanism to sort out these people who were taking advantage of this system.”

Congress first imposed a 120-day national eviction moratorium after passing the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act of 2020 (CARES Act). Properties that “participated in federal assistance programs or were secured by federally backed mortgage loans” were included in the moratorium.

When the CARES Act expired on July 24, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued the “Temporary Halt in Residential Evictions to Prevent the Further Spread of COVID-19” order, preventing landlords from evicting residents if they did not pay rent or associated fees. The CDC’s order went into effect on July 25, 2020. According to the American Bar Association, “The CDC extended its orders three times between March and July 2021.”

Property investors likened the eviction moratoriums to “legalized theft” like “someone renting a car from Hertz without a credit card, then driving off on a two-year joy ride without paying.” Financial aid to landlords was provided mostly on a first-come-first-serve basis and was often not enough to cover the loss of rental income and pay for property taxes, maintenance fees, and the landlord’s own living expenses.

As of March 2021, property owner organizations filed at least nine civil actions challenging the CDC’s order, according to the National Housing Law Project. In one particular case, “the court found that Congress does not have the authority to stop residential evictions in state courts because such authority is not among the limited powers granted to the federal government in Article I of the Constitution.” The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the CDC’s attempt to appeal.

As national moratoriums expired or were struck down by courts, individual states and municipalities implemented local eviction bans, with California being the last to phase out the pandemic policy.

New Jersey, California, Washington, Minnesota, Illinois, New Mexico, Hawaii, Maryland, and New York all extended eviction moratoriums past the federal expiration date, but most were set to end in 2022, giving many renters nearly two full years of free housing.

This piece first appeared at TPUSA.

Image: Title: Eviction