Bay Area’s rent prices climb during COVID-19

How the pandemic has impacted rent, eviction and housing legislation in Cupertino

Sophia Chen and Matthew Yoshimoto

Many tenants have struggled to keep up with increasing rent prices as a result of the pandemic; a one-bedroom apartment in Cupertino costs on average $2,750, a 6% increase from 2021. In Cupertino, 16% of renter households are severely cost-burdened, meaning that more than 50% of the household’s income is spent on rent.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Ariel Swan, the Cupertino case manager for Tenant-Landlord Dispute Resolution for Project Sentinel, recalls there being a “noticeable difference of increasing calls” regarding concerns with rent and eviction. Since Swan’s responsibilities include providing up-to-date information about tenant rights and responsibilities, as well as coordinating mediations and conciliations, she is familiar with complications between tenants and landlords.

“A lot of times when callers reach out with a question or situation, it’s never quite black and white,” Swan said. “Everybody’s situation is very different and they come from very different contexts. And normally, a majority of these situations stem from perhaps a breakdown of communication between the landlord and the tenant. There have been some misunderstandings that the tenant thought that they would get X amount of money for this but the landlord thought it would be a different amount.”

Graphic by Sophia Chen

Apartment Property Manager Shemsija Kraja explains that although she is aware of overall increases in eviction rates, she has not noticed any significant changes at her current location, KP Apartments, where she manages 20 units for the landlord. She attributes this to maintaining open communication with her tenants, such as when one tenant reached out about her husband losing his job, and they were able to settle on reduced rent to help them with other expenses. 

“I am also seeing tenants that are a bit nervous to go and lock in [to pay] a high rent because there is an uncertain situation out there,” Kraja said. “I [often] get calls [that ask], ‘Do you have any flexibility on the lease in case something hits us again, similar to COVID?’ So it definitely made people very nervous [with] how they approach things, whether it’s rent, whether it’s buying property or whatever decision they will be, now COVID stands in their mind.”

Despite having no evictions at the property she manages in the past year, Kraja recalls that her landlord was forced to give five eviction notices in just a week at her properties in San Jose and Santa Clara. Due to the tenants failing to fully pay rent for over a year, Kraja shares that “the loss is big for the landlord,” costing her over $20,000 per unit.

Graphic by Sophia Chen

“Every month was always something going on and made it extremely busy and very stressful because even getting a new tenant to come in, it was difficult because there is no assurance that the tenant will actually pay 100%,” Kraja said. “And if they don’t pay 100%, maybe they tell you they will pay 100%, so landlords would take a hit again there. I know that it was unfair for the tenants as well because they’re struggling too, but it is kind of a two-way suffering here.”

Senior Ameya Joshi, who lives in a rented apartment, shares that his family noticed a small rise in rent but are “fortunate enough to be financially stable despite this increase.” However, he recognizes that many families are struggling to obtain the necessary funds to combat increased rent, so he is glad there is legislation to help alleviate the issue.

Swan notes that a “major portion of the foundational legislature that really impacted tenants and landlords across the board” was the California Assembly Bill 1482, the Tenant Protection Act of 2019, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Oct. 8, 2019, and will be in effect until Jan. 1, 2030. Swan says that it acts as a “basic protection for rent increases and cause for eviction so that it really limited landlords in how they were going to go about either increasing rent or evicting.”

Also as a result of the Tenant, Homeowner and Small Landlord Relief and Stabilization Act of 2020, a state eviction moratorium put in place from Sept. 21, 2020, was extended numerous times through Sept. 30, 2021. To protect income-eligible tenants impacted by the pandemic, the moratorium halted all evictions based on nonpayment of rent.

Graphic by Sophia Chen

From Oct. 1, 2021 through March 31, 2022, Swan notes that landlords must apply for the CA COVID-19 Rent Relief program before evicting a tenant for nonpayment of rent, and only those with pending applications will have protections until June 30, 2022. While Swan is not certain what will happen moving forward, she hopes she can address the changes as they come with the pandemic.

“From there, we’re not sure what will happen — they can extend [the program] again [but] we don’t know,” Swan said. “That’s kind of how it’s been this entire time. It’s once we get close to a deadline, it’s like, ‘OK, what’s going to happen next?’ So it’s really up in the air of how we’ll proceed, but once we get that information, that’s how we can then provide it to callers that come asking for what specifically is going on.”

*Correction (4/19/2022, 12:06pm): Edits made regarding the current status of the CA COVID-19 Rent Relief Program; originally what was stated that landlords could apply for the CA COVID-19 Rent Relief Program from Oct. 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022. This error has been corrected to state that landlords could apply for the program from Oct. 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022, and only pending applications will have protections until June 30, 2022.