March 13, 2020
Officials and tenant rights advocates in California are calling for dramatic measures to protect renters during the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, pandemic. City leaders in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose, and Oakland are moving toward adopting local eviction moratoriums. A statewide measure is also being considered: California Assemblymember Phil Ting announced yesterday he plans to introduce a bill to put a statewide moratorium on evictions for renters who cannot pay their rent because of the impacts of the viral outbreak, namely the sudden drop in business activity, especially at restaurants.
Evictions “can be a matter of life and death,” said Allyson Gold, assistant professor of clinical legal instruction at the University of Alabama School of Law. She said evictions often lead people to live without shelter on the streets, in homeless shelters, or doubled up with family or friends. “If we have overcrowding, we could see a quicker spread of infectious diseases in those circumstances,” she said.
Landlords can be less likely to rent to people with prior evictions, she noted, which means many end up in substandard housing, where mold, pests, and other hazards can cause chronic health problems. Furthermore, an eviction can often force renters to move out of communities where healthcare resources are more accessible, she said.
Tenant attorneys say housing security for everyone is essential to the success of basic public health strategies needed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“We are already in a housing crisis and now we have a housing crisis colliding with a public health crisis,” said Meghan Gordon, housing director of the East Bay Community Law Center, a nonprofit legal aid group in Oakland.
On Wednesday, at the Alameda County State Superior Courthouse in Hayward, Gordon was one of dozens of attorneys standing shoulder to shoulder in a hallway with nearly 100 tenants and landlords during the court’s Wednesday conference day, a mandatory mass meeting judges make renters and landlords attend to try to settle eviction lawsuits instead of taking them trial. Gordon said the daily operations of eviction courts in urban counties create exactly the kinds of mass gatherings which can spread contagious diseases.
Some of Gordon’s clients are especially at risk of contracting the virus. Last week, she said one of her cases involved a man with HIV who had to travel to the court on public transit. He asked a judge to delay his case one week because he fears being exposed to crowds right now.