On the scene of an eviction tsunami
Inequality Insights
A weekly dose of informed analysis, commentary and news items on the persistent issues of poverty and inequality in California

Good morning, Inequality Insights readers.

I’m California Divide reporter Felicia Mello, writing from Alameda County, where eviction cases have skyrocketed in the months since pandemic-era moratoria barring displacement of tenants have expired in the county and in the cities of Oakland and Berkeley. About 600 residential eviction cases were filed in the county in each of September and October, roughly double the amount from the same months in 2019.

Inside the Alameda County Superior Court's Hayward Hall of Justice last week, hundreds of tenants and landlords packed a second-floor hallway, as pro bono attorneys from the East Bay Community Law Center dashed around, conducting rapid-fire consultations. Most tenants had arrived without a lawyer. (Nationally, only about 4% of tenants in eviction cases have legal representation, compared with 83% of landlords, according to the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel.)

Tenants who receive notice that their landlords have filed an eviction case against them have five days to respond in writing or they may automatically lose their cases. Wednesdays, the court runs mandatory settlement conferences in which the two sides try to come to an agreement; if they don’t, the case goes to a trial that will decide whether the defendant gets to stay in their home. I spoke with Linda Yu, co-director of the housing unit at the East Bay Community Law Center, one of several legal services groups that take turns camping out at the courthouse to help tenants navigate the process. (We’ve edited her comments for length and clarity.)

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What has it been like today?

It’s been chaotic. I think it’s been an example of how the court system has not been prepared for this influx of evictions following the moratoriums lifting and we are now paying the price. If we were not here to assist tenants to just understand what’s going on today, many of them would be unlawfully evicted without any opportunity to even defend themselves. We have a calendar of over 100 cases today which is unprecedented. I’ve been doing this for over 5 years now. I’ve never seen a calendar this size even pre-pandemic.

What are some of the challenges that tenants face in navigating the system?

There are many tenants who come to our office and they’ve been defaulted, meaning they missed their opportunity to respond to their eviction suit. And it’s because they weren’t served (the paperwork). It’s because they were disabled or elderly and they didn’t realize they were served. Maybe they were hospitalized, maybe there was some emergency that happened. And they missed the five-day window to respond. And then they go to the courthouse and they’re saying, “Oh my gosh, I had no idea. How can I respond now?”

Many of them are redirected to Alameda Courthouse because they’re told, for example in Oakland, that we don’t print paperwork here for unlawful detainer cases. So you’ll have to go to this one courthouse to this one window, (and) you might be able to get access to just the filings in your case. So it’s a very scary time and we are hoping that the courts will do the right thing, which is using their power to kind of manage the flow in a way that’s sustainable for all parties to access due process.

What specifically should the court be doing?

I think one thing is just remedying how many cases can go on each calendar…so that actually parties have access to negotiate with each other, they have access to free services, and also have access to the judge who can help mediate some of these negotiations. That’s impossible when the calendar’s 100-plus. They should also return to the point where all the courthouses give access to unrepresented parties to get their filings.

How is your team managing this flood of cases?

We’ve been preparing for weeks for this moment. We’ve enlisted additional volunteers. We have many law students from UC Berkeley who are part of our team to help negotiate. We’ve pulled in other attorneys from across our organization including our deputy director. Alumni are coming back in.

Most unrepresented parties don’t know they’re supposed to bring their paperwork here or never got them. So we’ve been in communication with the clerk’s office to get electronic copies so we can give the most adequate advice to tenants when we’re saying, “This is what you should negotiate for.” 

If there’s a reason why their case is unlawful and shouldn’t proceed, we are preparing to argue those motions today and tomorrow to try to give tenants an opportunity to save their housing for another day. So we are trying the best we can but there’s no way we can meet the need. 

I followed up with Alameda County Superior Court spokesperson Paul Rosynsky. “We’re always in conversation with all parties involved to make sure everyone gets their due process rights,” he said. Besides having a dedicated courtroom for evictions, the court has alerted other judges to make space on their calendars to hear those cases as needed, he said. 

State law specifies timelines for eviction cases, which limits the court’s ability to reduce weekly caseloads, he added. And he said staff in the Oakland clerk’s office told him they would pull records for tenants even if the case was set to be heard in another courthouse. 

“In the court’s perspective, we’re doing what we can do and what we have to do,” he said. “We’re the arena where the two sides are meeting. We provide the venue and the referees but we can’t provide the coaching strategy or the players.”

Are you a tenant or landlord currently caught up in an eviction case? Share your experience with our team at We may contact you to follow up, and won’t publish your response without your permission.


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California Divide is a statewide media collaboration to raise awareness and engagement about poverty and income inequality through in-depth, local storytelling and community outreach. The project is based at CalMatters in Sacramento with a team of reporters deployed at news organizations throughout California.

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