Is the "Eviction Tsunami" Coming?
By Michelle Gamble
The Alameda County Community Development Agency released a memo to the County Board of Supervisors discussing the Alameda County Eviction Moratorium. The memo outlined the economic impact of the eviction moratorium on both property owners and renters. The agency provided analysis and figures, citing evictions already on the rise throughout the Bay Area. This data caused concern that an “eviction tsunami” is building – one which will significantly increase homelessness.
The memo states: “County-level data for the Bay Area shows eviction rates more than doubled from when the remaining state eviction protections expired in April 2022 through July 2022. Alameda County is the sole exception to this pattern, though rates here have trended marginally upward. There were 86 eviction filings in Alameda County in July 2022, slightly more than half the total of Santa Clara.”
Eighty-six eviction filings doesn’t make a “tsunami” or even create a wave of homelessness. When the eviction moratorium lifts in Alameda County, officials are afraid evictions will catch up with neighboring counties. However, will the eviction rates really be much higher than in the past (pre-pandemic)? It’s an important question given that eviction moratoriums were put in place in 2020, and there were no eviction removals due to non-payment of rent for three years in Alameda County.
It’s natural that eviction rates would rise after lifting a three-year moratorium; but put into historical perspective, the eviction rates are returning to “normal” levels. Consider what an article on renter evictions that appeared in The Real Deal – San Francisco Real Estate News revealed: “Eviction cases rose sharply across Santa Clara, San Mateo, San Francisco and Contra Costa counties. The exception was Alameda County, where local renter protections remain in place. Despite lower cases, it had more than 1,000 eviction court filings in June and July. The rising number of court-led evictions still don’t come close to the number of renters actually evicted across the Bay Area before the pandemic, when 11,055 filings were recorded from June 2018 through July 2019.”
Let’s take this a step further. To create a true tsunami of evictions requires every renter who is in violation of their lease agreement (Just Cause) will actually be evicted and removed. Will the vast majority be evicted? No. Renters already have other legal protections. Current eviction laws protect at-risk and low-income renters. Most property owners know evicting a renter, whether during the pandemic or not, isn’t easy to do. All evictions must follow legal protocols. Laws exist to protect renters from being arbitrarily tossed into the streets, eviction moratorium lifted or not.
Consider eviction laws in San Francisco. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle titled “Data Shows Eviction Notices are Rising in San Francisco” by Susie Neilson, “The city required property owners to have one of several approved reasons to evict renters – what’s known as the ‘Just Cause’ ordinance. However, its moratorium bars evictions for most nonpayment issues, plus several other causes the ordinance previously allowed.”
While no one wants to have homeless people flood into their neighborhoods, renters being afforded more consideration than property owners has an unintended consequence that can’t be ignored. The problem – whether it’s in San Francisco County or Alameda County – is that renters are being afforded more protection than property owners. The economic impact to small rental property owners, especially owner-occupants, is equally dire.
In an economic climate where experts predict a recession coming in 2023, a balanced view should be given to the entire housing situation. Property owners without rental income impacts the ecosystem of property-related businesses – maintenance, repairs, security, improvements, etc.
With renters outnumbering property owners, there’s a growing East Bay culture that doesn’t value owners or their rights. Elected leaders tend to go where the votes are. From the point of view of “votes,” it’s easy to understand bias toward renters’ needs. However, that doesn’t mean the entire burden of evictions, displacement and homelessness should be placed on property owners.
Income inequality and homelessness are complex social problems, a difficulty best solved by state and local government, not property owners. Property owners are trying to run businesses. Bias in our laws, rules and regulations aimed at helping renters while excluding property owners’ concerns, raises the question: what is the role of property owners when it comes to rental housing? The answer is straightforward: to provide housing in exchange for rent. Rental property owners shouldn’t be mandated to provide subsidized housing or be obligated to untangle the Bay Area’s homelessness problem without proper incentives and resources.
Government leaders need to place equal weight on the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic on property owners, if for no other reason than the financial suffering it has caused. Lawsuits are already underway by property owners burdened with non-rent payments for almost three years. In some cases, property owners are owed over $100,000 per unit/home that have remained delinquent even when some renters received Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) funds. The mentality by legislatures has been so pro-renter that it borders on what some attorneys involved in lawsuits suggest is government seizure of property. Property owners unable by law to (a) collect back rent and (b) be forced to continue to provide that residence to a renter free of charge, damage that property owner’s livelihood.
The bottom line: Let government leaders do their jobs and manage social issues like household income gaps, eviction displacement, mental illness, drug addiction, and homelessness without making it a burden on property owners.
Michelle Gamble is the editor of Rental Housing Magazine.