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On April 1, Bay Area Tenants Choose Not To Pay Rent

Shereen Adel
Graffiti calling for a rent strike at the Lake Merritt amphitheater in Oakland.

For those who have lost their income because of COVID-19, today may be an especially hard day. It’s April 1, and for many, rent is due. Bay Area governments have passed emergency protections for tenants, but critics say they’re not enough.

Until a few weeks ago, Ivy Jeanne worked two jobs in San Francisco - part time as a bouncer at the Stud, and part time building signs and displays for events. She lost both jobs before the middle of March due.

IVY JEANNE: I definitely felt panicked and really devastated to suddenly lose both of my sources of income.

Now, she says she’s been using what little savings she has to buy groceries. Today she’s decided she’s not going to pay rent and she can’t get evicted because of it

Many bay area counties including SF have announced bans and moratoriums on COVID-19 related evictions. And California followed suit. Tenants rights groups say this is a good first step, but all the different measures and names can be confusing

DEEPA VARMA: I think the critical question is whether or not that rent is expected to be paid back.

Deepa Varma is the executive director of the San Francisco Tenants Union. She stressed that our regional eviction moratoriums and bans don’t mean rent is canceled. Once the pandemic is over, tenants will still need to pay back rent. For those who were already working paycheck to paycheck when they lost their jobs, this may be difficult. Also these bans and moratoriums don’t mean evictions won’t happen, they’ll just be delayed. Plus, it doesn’t cover Ellis Act evictions.

VARMA: Those notices should not be filed right now and should not run their course in a time when everyone's supposed to shelter home, and can't be looking for their housing, and can't be working.

In all cases, if you are going to withhold rent, you need to provide written documentation that you can’t pay because of the coronavirus. That means attaching a termination letter, a recent pay stub, or a doctor's note showing you or a family member is sick. The California moratorium says you need to alert your landlord within a week of when rent’s due. In other cities like San Francisco, that period is longer.

Helpful links

- San Francisco Eviction Moratorium

- Bay Area Rent Strike 

- East Bay Community Law Center

Cancel Rent Campaign

Bay Area Legal Aid

Law Foundation of Silicon Valley 

- KQED's Guide to Bay Area Eviction Moratoriums