Amid a spike in evictions as cases pile up following the end of a nearly three-year moratorium, a group of progressive elected officials from across Alameda County gathered Wednesday in front of the Hayward Hall of Justice to call on the county’s superior court to slow the flood of people being pushed from their homes.
“Decrease the number of cases that we’re seeing here on a daily basis,” said Oakland City Council Member Carroll Fife. “It’s a factory, and we need to stop it.”
Since the end of Alameda County’s eviction moratorium in April, cases have skyrocketed. The court has seen more than 400 cases every month since May — a number it did not surpass in any month in 2019, before COVID-19 eviction protections were put in place.
Alameda was the last county with a pandemic moratorium still in place — and other Bay Area counties also saw evictions spike as protections wound down starting in 2021. Oakland and Berkeley each had their own moratoriums end in July and September, respectively.
Landlords, some of whom struggled to cover mortgages as they housed tenants who did not pay, heralded the end of the moratoriums.
But the officials Wednesday said they are concerned tenants are not getting the representation they need, with the nonprofit service providers who usually offer them legal advice becoming overwhelmed. Tenants with lawyers typically get better settlements.
“We’re seeing folks being turned away because those service providers have had to take on too many cases, or they are just foregoing legal protections and legal services altogether,” said Hayward City Councilmember George Syrop.
Many jurisdictions, including Hayward and Oakland, already help fund legal services for tenants. Syrop argues that a slowdown in the number of cases would allow tenants to have better access to those resources that already exist.
In a letter sent yesterday, several nonprofits representing tenants, including Bay Area Legal Aid, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, and the Berkeley Tenants Union, called on Judge Charles Smiley of the Alameda County Superior Court to cap the number of cases at 50 each week to give tenants and litigants a better chance at finding legal representation, which landlords typically have.
“No one is receiving due process,” said Leah Simon-Weisberg, the Legal Director for ACCE, which organized the press conference.
But Paul Rosynsky, public information officer of the courts, said that the court cannot cap how many cases it hears because state statute ensures that eviction cases move forward in a timely manner.
“It’s a policy issue, not a court process issue,” he said in a phone interview following the press conference. “Unless the legislature changes the statute, then the court is following the law…People are getting due process; cases are being heard.”
And after three years without the ability to evict people for non-payment of rent, landlords are eager to get their day in court.
Still, the elected officials at the conference said that something must change.
In addition to calling for a cap on the number of cases heard, Berkeley City Councilmember Kate Harrison also called for the court to open a self-help center with drop-in hours so that tenants can get more information on the process, and to start hearing eviction cases at the Berkeley courthouse in addition to Hayward, so tenants don’t have to travel as far.
“We really need to have these services spread throughout the county,” she said.
The courthouse in Berkeley is limited in space, though, Rosynsky said. Moving an eviction court there would require moving probate court elsewhere, an idea that has been met with resistance from the community in the past.
Some also called on the county to act in protecting tenants from evictions.
“The county has totally failed us, ” Simon Weisberg said.
Valarie Bachelor, who sits on the board of the Oakland Unified School District, went the furthest among the elected officials, demanding another eviction moratorium in Alameda County.
“What’s happening now,” she said, “could create a tsunami of more families that will need support in housing.”