Santa Clara, Contra Costa Top Bay Area Counties With Most Evictions During Pandemic

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An anti-eviction protester stands in front of Santa Clara County Superior Court on Jan. 27, 2021, during a demonstration calling for stronger statewide eviction protections. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Corrections: We adjusted our overall number of evictions after removing 6 duplicate records and 5 evictions at commercial properties.

As California’s eviction protections neared their expiration on June 30 and concern rose about a wave of evictions, the governor signed legislation this week to extend the moratorium, allowing more time to get relief into the hands of struggling renters and landlords.

But even as the state and local moratoriums have been in place during the pandemic, more than 1,000 Bay Area residents were evicted from their homes, according to an analysis of public records from sheriff’s offices in nine counties.

The data includes only instances when sheriff’s deputies were called to physically remove someone from their home, which experts say represents only a small fraction of total evictions.

But the data — compiled and analyzed by KQED and researchers at UC Berkeley’s Urban Displacement Project — provides insight into where those evictions are happening, who is most vulnerable and the effectiveness of tenant protections.

See Where People Were Evicted in the Bay Area

Click on the map below to see how many people were evicted from March 19, 2020 to March 31, 2021 by county, city or census tract.

Roughly half of the 1,012 lockouts occurred in two counties, with 270 in Santa Clara County and 227 in Contra Costa County. Comparatively, in Alameda County, which has half a million more residents than in Contra Costa, sheriff’s deputies performed 25 lockouts, the lowest of all nine counties.

The disparity is largely due to differences in protections for tenants that county and city officials enacted during the pandemic, said Anne Tamiko Omura, the executive director of the Eviction Defense Center. The legal services organization counsels tenants in Alameda County and parts of Contra Costa County.

“It quantifies what we experience day in and day out,” she said, “which is the huge disparity between tenants who live in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.”

Alameda County allows only evictions for health and safety violations or if a landlord is taking their property off the rental market, Tamiko Omura said, making its moratorium one of the strongest in the state. By contrast, Contra Costa’s tenant protections are more narrowly focused on blocking evictions for nonpayment of rent. It allows other evictions, including, for instance, breaches of the lease or nuisance allegations.

The same is true in Santa Clara County, said Caryn Hreha, a staff attorney at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley. Hreha said her office now mostly sees nuisance claims as the grounds cited for an eviction, in part because it’s one of the few ways landlords can evict tenants.

“We have cases where it’s the sound of running and jumping from children because it happens frequently, backyards that aren’t cleaned up, parking disputes over who is parking in what spots,” Hreha said. “Those are things landlords are calling nuisances, and those are the cases that are going forward.”



The data also points to racial disparities in evictions, said Tim Thomas, research director at UC Berkeley’s Urban Displacement Project. He estimates that Black renters were twice as likely to be evicted than white renters, a finding that is in keeping with national studies.

The data does not include racial demographic information for the people who were evicted. But Thomas and graduate student Alex Ramiller used an algorithm that combines last names with neighborhood demographic information and applied it to 658 eviction records to predict the race of an individual evicted.

Tenants who were evicted were also more likely to be living in neighborhoods that have higher poverty rates, lower median rents and have slightly higher levels of rent burden — meaning renters pay more than a third of their income toward rent.

Bay Area Eviction Dashboard

What is most startling about the data KQED collected, Thomas said, was that it pointed to the effectiveness of Alameda County’s tenant protections. The Urban Displacement Project on Monday released a new map and modeling tool to predict where residents are most at risk of eviction.

Tenants in parts of West and East Oakland, Hayward and elsewhere in Alameda County were at high risk of eviction because of the levels of poverty, unemployment and rent burden among residents, Thomas said. But sheriff lockouts remained low.

“If that doesn’t make you a believer that policy has an impact,” Thomas said, “I don't know what will.”

As Coronavirus Cases Surged, So Did Lockouts

Across the Bay Area, sheriff’s lockouts began picking up in the fall, jumping from 39 in September to 104 in October. They peaked in December with 171, as a deadly surge in coronavirus cases was sweeping the region.

Suzanne Dershowitz, a housing policy attorney at Legal Aid of Sonoma County, said the uptick in lockouts might be attributed to the expiration of the Judicial Council of California’s eviction moratorium. It was in effect between April 6 and Aug. 31 last year and prohibited eviction cases from moving forward, except for health and safety violations.

When the Judicial Council’s order expired, the California Legislature enacted new statewide tenant protections, which went into effect on Sept. 1. The law, Assembly Bill 3088, prohibited evictions for nonpayment of rent if the tenant could demonstrate they lost income due to the pandemic.

But it left other grounds for eviction in place, such as when an owner wants to remove a property from the rental market, or move themselves or a family member into the property. It also allows evictions for nuisance claims, breaches of the lease or health and safety allegations.

“That was a big turning point for us,” Dershowitz said. “As soon as (the Judicial Council’s order) was lifted and the state law went into effect, we saw evictions taking place that had previously been protected.”



Cases that had been put on hold during the first months of the pandemic began to move forward, and new cases that were now permitted under the new state rules were added to the queue, said the Eviction Defense Center’s Anne Tamiko Omura.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the peak happened a couple months after the courts reopened,” she said.

After KQED reported its first findings in January on sheriff’s lockouts, Dershowitz said her organization, along with others, were able to successfully lobby the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors to amend the county’s existing tenant protections. The legislation, adopted Feb. 9, added protections for more tenants by only allowing evictions when a landlord wants to remove a property from the rental market and for health and safety violations.

“The argument we were making was a public health argument,” Dershowtiz said, “that evictions for nonpayment of rent spreads COVID just as much as an eviction for a lease violation.”

The new legislation appears to have had some impact. Sheriff’s lockouts in Sonoma County decreased nearly 60% between January and March of this year, dropping from 37 to 16, according to records from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.

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Protections for Renters, Pressure on Landlords

Despite the more than 1,000 sheriff lockouts across the Bay Area, evictions were significantly down from previous years, tenant attorneys said. Pre-pandemic eviction numbers are not widely available, but in Contra Costa County, for example, the Sheriff’s Office reported enforcing roughly 30 evictions per week in the 18 months prior to the pandemic, compared to an average 4.5 per week between March 19, 2020 and March 31, 2021.

“It’s historic, the levels of protections” for tenants, said Dershowitz. “All of our clients have been impacted by COVID in one way or another, and these protections have been absolutely critical to keeping clients housed.”

But not having the option of evicting tenants has also put some landlords in a bind. Jim Siegel operates 10 rental units across six properties in San Francisco and Sonoma counties. He said he’s owed roughly $150,300 from tenants who haven’t paid rent and said he plans to evict some of them if they aren’t able to pay the back rent once the state and local moratoriums lift.

He owns a retail store in San Francisco that reduced its hours significantly, and he said he had to go on unemployment as a result.

“Everybody always thinks landlords are rich, but we have lots of expenses,” Siegel said. “We have mortgages, property taxes, insurance, utilities, we have upkeep on the buildings.”

Paying all those costs has bled his bank account, Siegel said. He had been using any profit from his buildings to fund his retirement. Now, he said he’ll have to keep working for another couple years.

“To keep continually extending the eviction moratorium, it’s just making the tenants’ debt worse,” Siegel said. “Eventually, there will be a reckoning day.”

Protesters rally in front of Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose on Jan. 27, 2021, demanding stronger state eviction protections. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Siegel and his tenants in San Francisco and Sonoma counties have applied for rent relief but haven’t received any response.

Rent relief has been slow to go out across the state. Cities and counties are administering about half of the $5.2 billion in federal stimulus funds dedicated to rent relief in California, and the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development is administering the other half.


But according to the department, as of Tuesday, the state had received 92,749 completed applications for its portion of the rent relief program, requesting more than $722 million in rental assistance. The state had paid out a little more than $73 million — or about 10% of the requested amount — to 6,610 households.

With the passage of AB 832, the latest extension of the statewide eviction moratorium through Sept. 30, Tamiko Omura said she’s hopeful those extra months will allow enough time to get the money into the hands of renters and landlords.

“I just hope we can forestall all of these evictions long enough,” she said, “to get the bulk of this money pushed out.”


How We Did It

When the state enacted its first statewide tenant protections, AB 3088, in September 2020, the housing desk at KQED started wondering: What happens when the moratoriums end?

CalMatters had gathered eviction data from 44 county sheriff’s departments across California and shared that with KQED and other newsrooms in August 2020. The data included sheriff lockouts from March through June of 2020.

KQED reporters began requesting monthly sheriff lockout data from Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano and Sonoma counties for lockouts beginning in July 2020. We have continued submitting records requests every month since.

Evictions

A sheriff lockout is a court order to physically remove tenants from a household after they have lost their eviction case. Tenant attorneys say it represents only a small fraction of total evictions since most tenants agree to leave the house or apartment before sheriff’s deputies are called. But it is one of the few ways to determine how many evictions are taking place and provides information about who was evicted and where those evictions have occurred.

In most cases, the data provided by the sheriff’s offices included the names of people being evicted and the landlord, the address, and the date of the lockout. The data does not include information about why someone was evicted (i.e., breach of lease, non-payment of rent, nuisance, owner move-in, etc.). We are not publishing people’s names or record level data.

KQED and researchers at the Urban Displacement Project converted the records into data and cleaned the results, omitting where possible any lockouts for commercial buildings, duplicate records, cancelled and stayed lockouts. In cases where sheriff’s offices included “post and mail” and “personal” service records, we only included “personal” records. This means that a sheriff’s deputies physically showed up at someone’s home to remove them, whereas “post and mail” indicates the sheriff’s deputies posted a notice for an upcoming eviction on someone’s door.

Then Urban Displacement researchers used an algorithm that combines last names with neighborhood demographic information to determine the likely race and ethnicity of evictees. This algorithm has been used to estimate eviction data without race by academics at UC Berkeley and Princeton.

The Urban Displacement Project researchers also used data from the American Community Survey to analyze the characteristics of the neighborhoods where evictions occurred, including median rent, median household income and the racial demographics of residents in those neighborhoods.

You can download aggregated data here.

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