Richmond evictions spike post-pandemic, as many predicted.
on November 10, 2023
Across the country, fears of a wave of evictions emerged when pandemic-era moratoriums and rent relief programs ended. In Richmond, those fears materialized.
A little over a year after most pandemic-related protections were lifted for area renters, Contra Costa Superior Court data indicates that eviction cases have spiked in Richmond. The City Council officially lifted the local moratorium in April, but a large number of tenants have been eligible for removal from their homes since July 2022.
According to the court, the number of unlawful detainers, or eviction cases, filed in 2022 was three and a half times higher than in 2021. That’s 907 cases in 2022 versus 254 the year prior.
Numbers continued to trend upward into 2023. This year, in just a five-month span from April to August, almost 400 households faced eviction in Richmond alone. During that same stretch in 2021, there were 88 eviction cases filed with the court.
“Once the COVID protections for rent evictions expired, we’ve seen an increase in folks seeking help with evictions overall,” said Adam Poe, managing attorney at Bay Area Legal Aid’s Richmond office.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, state and local officials restricted evictions and established a rent relief program to help tenants repay accumulated back rent. According to the state, 2,927 Richmond households were provided an average of $12,598 in relief.
But applications closed at the end of March 2022, effectively ending statewide protections. By that July, tenants who did not receive funding were once again subject to eviction for non-payment of rent.
In Richmond, the following six months saw a flurry of eviction case filings. According to Poe, a majority of the cases that came through that office after July were related to non-payment of rent.
As eviction court calendars overflowed, the city was still technically in a state of emergency and the weakened moratorium remained active. Though evictions for breach of lease, nuisance, failure to give access and to make substantial repairs remained prohibited, unlawful detainers surged through the summer, fall and winter of 2022.
More recently, monthly case numbers have waned slightly but remained higher on average than pre-pandemic levels. In August, over a year since protections for non-payment ended, 82 eviction cases were filed in Richmond. In 2019, August saw 72 cases filed.
Legal aid steps in
The tenants’ rights team at Centro Legal de la Raza said many of their Contra Costa County clients fell behind on rent during the pandemic and are still struggling to catch up. Most of the time, all Centro Legal’s eviction defense lawyers can do is negotiate to waive back rent and give the tenant more time to move out.
Mihaela Gough, managing attorney at Centro Legal, said that for tenants with no legal representation, eviction cases often end with a request to immediately vacate the property and set up a payment plan for all back rent owed.
Gough added that after protections were lifted, “many landlords were not particularly willing to collaborate with tenants.”
For Richmond renter Suirma Navarrete, access to legal representation helped her beat an eviction case.
When her landlord stopped accepting rent checks and filed a 15-day notice to pay or quit, Suirma sought help from lawyers affiliated with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. Because her case was filed before the moratorium was lifted, lawyers successfully argued that pandemic restrictions still applied.
Suirma remains in her home, but the protections her lawyers were able to capitalize on are no longer in place. Should she find herself in the same situation, the outcome would be less certain.
Where to get help
The spike in evictions comes as the city continues to see rising numbers of residents living on the street. According to the most recent Contra Costa County Point-In-Time Count, Richmond’s unsheltered population grew nearly 75% between 2020 and 2023. Experts and advocates say that is likely an undercount, as point-in-time tallies are unable to document every unhoused person in a city.
Eviction defense organizations that operate in the Richmond area advise tenants facing eviction to seek legal assistance from such groups as Eviction Defense Center, Bay Area Legal Aid’s Richmond office and Centro Legal De La Raza.
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