HAYWARD, Calif. — In an effort to safeguard the rights of the most vulnerable tenants, elected officials from across Alameda County are urging the county court system to cap the number of eviction cases heard in a single day.
Members of city councils, school boards and rent stabilization boards from across Alameda County, including Hayward City Councilmember George Syrop, coalesced at the Hayward Hall of Justice on Wednesday, Nov. 8, to urge the Alameda County Superior Court to limit how many eviction hearings it schedules in a given day. They said the current volume of hearings is putting a strain on legal service providers and potentially compromising tenants’ rights to due process.
“Our legal service providers are being overloaded because the courts are hearing so many cases per day,” Syrop told the East Bay Echo. “That leads to two outcomes: folks are either being turned away or they’re foregoing representation altogether.”
In 2019, the Alameda County court system processed 3,720 unlawful detainer cases, which are legal actions initiated by a landlord to evict a tenant who may be in violation of the lease or rental agreement. That number dropped significantly to 929 in 2020 when eviction moratoriums were enacted to protect residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. Figures for 2021 (649) and 2022 (946) remained relatively low. However, following the lifting of the county’s eviction moratorium at the end of April, monthly eviction hearings surged from a range of 66 to 84 to a range of 520 to 786. In the first week of November alone, the court has already heard 122 unlawful detainer cases.
“What we’re seeing right now is just the tip of the iceberg,” Syrop said. “Once the holidays are over, we’re going to see a lot more cases coming forward.”
Syrop expressed concern that this wave of evictions could lead to increased homelessness, potentially reversing progress made by cities in reducing homelessness rates. Hayward, for instance, saw a decrease from 487 homeless individuals in 2019 to 381 in 2022.
To address this looming crisis, Syrop successfully advocated for the city of Hayward to allocate $500,000 to provide legal services for tenants facing eviction. A study by Boston University in 2021 found that 90% of landlords have legal representation while only 10% of tenants do, which makes it less likely they will be able to put up an effective defense and less likely that their cases will settle before trial.
However, the surge in eviction cases has led to a strain on legal service providers, potentially impeding tenants’ due process rights.
Paul Rosynsky, public information officer with the Alameda County Superior Court, said that the court’s ability to limit daily hearings is constrained by state-mandated timelines for unlawful detainer cases. These cases are given priority and must be resolved quickly, Rosynsky said.
“It’s a policy issue at this point and not a court process issue,” Rosynsky said. “We have to follow the law and the law currently allows for evictions. And both tenants and landlords have the right to a resolution of their cases without delay and that’s what we’re doing.”
Valarie Bachelor, a director on the Oakland Unified School District Board of Education, said there were other issues that needed to be addressed by the court beyond the number of hearings in a day, like the lack of readily available translation services for people who don’t speak English.
“How are we to have due process if folks don’t even understand what’s happening in the courtroom,” Bachelor said.
The Oakland Unified School District currently has 1,600 students who are unhoused and the district is doing what it can to help support them and their families, like making laundry machines and food available after school, Bachelor said.
“But that 1,600 number could double, triple or quadruple if this continues,” Bachelor said. “I can’t tell you how destabilizing that is for our students, our faculty and our school system as a whole.”
The board is still trying to do more where possible. Jennifer Brouhard, a retired teacher, is one of the directors on the Oakland Unified Board of Education calling for surplus school property to be converted into housing. In the past, Brouhard said she might have had just one homeless student over the course of several years. Now, she might find several students in a class who are either experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless.
Leah Simon-Weisberg, chair of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, emphasized the urgent need to find solutions.
“The consequences of taking no action will mean an exorbitant increase in homelessness, which is bad for everybody,” Simon-Weisberg said. “It’s really bad public policy because it’s really hard to rehouse people.”
Sonia Waraich can be reached at 510-952-7455.
Photo caption: (l-r) Soli Alpert, member of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board; Jennifer Brouhard, director on the Oakland Unified School District Board of Education; Hayward City Councilmember George Syrop; Berkeley City Councilmember Kate Harrison; Leah Simon-Weisberg, chair of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board; Oakland City Councilmember Carroll Fife; and Valarie Bachelor, director on the Oakland Unified Board of Education, pose for a photo in front of the Hayward Hall of Justice on Wednesday, Nov. 8. The group went to the courthouse, where eviction cases are heard, to advocate for a cap on the number of eviction cases heard in a day to ensure everyone gets equal access to due process. (Sonia Waraich – East Bay Echo)