13.110.010 Findings and Purpose.

International, national, state and local health and governmental authorities are responding to an outbreak of respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus named "SARS-CoV-2." And the disease it causes has been named "coronavirus disease 2019," abbreviated COVID-19, ("COVID-19"). In response to this emergency, on March 3, 2020, the City Manager acting as the Director of Emergency Services declared a local State of Emergency based on COVID-19 (hereinafter referred to as "the State of Emergency"), which the City Council subsequently ratified on March 10, 2020. On April 21, 2020, the council ratified an extension of the local state of emergency through June 21, 2020. In addition, on March 4, 2020, the Governor declared a state of emergency in California and the President of the United States declared a national state of emergency on March 13, 2020 regarding the novel coronavirus and COVID-19.

On March 16, 2020, the City of Berkeley Public Health Officer, along with several other neighboring jurisdictions issued a Shelter in Place Order directing all individuals living in the City of Berkeley to shelter at their place of residence except that they may leave to provide or receive certain essential services or engage in certain essential activities, and prohibiting non-essential gatherings and ordering cessation of non-essential travel. On March 31, this Shelter in Place Order was extended to May 3, 2020, and restricted activities further.

Furthermore, on March 16, 2020, the Governor issued Executive Order N-28-20, specifically authorizing local governments to halt evictions for commercial tenants, residential tenants, and homeowners who have been affected by COVID-19, emphasizing that the economic impacts of COVID-19 have been significant and could threaten to undermine housing security as many people are experiencing material income loss as a result of business closures, the loss of hours or wages or layoffs related to COVID-19, hindering their ability to keep up with rents, mortgages and utility bills.

The Order also stated that because homelessness can exacerbate vulnerability to COVID-19, Californians must take measures to preserve and increase housing security for Californians to protect public health and specifically stated that local jurisdictions may take measures to promote housing security beyond what the state law would otherwise allow.

On April 6, 2020, the Judicial Council of California issued emergency rules suspending court proceedings for unlawful detainer and judicial foreclosures until 90 days after the Governor declares that the state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic is lifted.

On April 21, 2020, Alameda County enacted an urgency ordinance prohibiting eviction for any reason other than withdrawal of rental property under the Ellis Act or court-ordered eviction for public safety. Although the Alameda County ordinance does not have effect within the incorporated area of Berkeley, it is desirable to ensure that Berkeley residents have the same level of protection as the residents of unincorporated Alameda County.

During this State of Emergency, and in the interests of protecting the public health and preventing transmission of the COVID-19, it is essential to avoid unnecessary displacement and homelessness. It is the intent of this Ordinance to fully implement the suspension of the statutory bases for eviction for nonpayment of rent and for default in the payment of a mortgage as authorized by Executive Order N-28-20.

At the same time, the Governor, as well as, the Berkeley Health Officer, and those of other jurisdictions ordered the closure of businesses, except those deemed essential. Many businesses, such as restaurants, are open only for take-out or pick up services and face a critical loss of business.

The City Council is aware that some landlords of commercial properties are seeking significant rent increases during the period when many commercial tenants are closed or are experiencing substantial and catastrophic reductions in their business and income. Such rent increases force tenants who are closed or have substantially reduced revenues face the choice of accepting a significant rent increase, moving at a time when it is virtually impossible, or closing altogether. Accepting a rent increase while closed or in a reduced state of operations means that the commercial tenants face even more debt to the landlord when the emergency is over, and may face a substantially increased rent when the tenant returns to normal operations, if ever.

Landlords of commercial property that unreasonably increases rents on tenants of commercial property during the COVID-19 emergency significantly impacts vulnerable small businesses, nonprofits, and artists who form a large part of the backbone of Berkeley’s economy, revenue sources, and employment opportunities. These rent increases are coming at a time when the commercial rents are likely falling due to business closures and potential loss of businesses at the end of the emergency. Thus, these rent increases appear as a way of evading the Governor’s and Berkeley’s commercial tenant eviction moratorium by forcing tenants to agree to rent increases or leave. Such conduct constitutes constructive evictions in contravention of the eviction moratorium. Furthermore, such rent increases may affect businesses providing goods and essential services, resulting in increases in those costs of essential goods and services contravening the intent of anti-price gouging laws.

On expiration of leases when the emergency order is in place, unreasonable rent increases have already forced the closure of businesses and will result in closing of additional business causing loss of income for the business owners, loss of employment for the employees and of revenue to the city, and an increase in homelessness. To reduce the spread of COVID-19, it is essential to avoid unnecessary displacement and homelessness. Because of the emergency restrictions, businesses forced out due to increased rents will be unable to move to new locations and new businesses will be unable to open during this emergency period. During a state of emergency cities have extraordinary powers and jurisdiction to create legislation in order to counteract the effects of the emergency situation on its people and businesses. Protecting tenants from excessive rent increases will prevent additional loss of employment and essential services for Berkeley residents. In order to effectively implement an eviction moratorium, the City Council finds it imperative to prevent constructive eviction through unreasonable rent increases.

Accordingly, the City of Berkeley adopts the following amendments to Berkeley Municipal Code Chapter 13.110. (Ord. 7762-NS § 1, 2021; Ord. 7743-NS § 1, 2020; Ord. 7704-NS § 1 (part), 2020: Ord. 7698-NS § 1 (part), 2020: Ord. 7693-NS § 1 (part), 2020)