City protections, support for renters struggling due to COVID-19

The city of Berkeley has been sharing public health news and recommendations about COVID-19 on its website. Berkeleyside is reprinting some of these items with permission.

Deferred rent payments are one of several options available to tenants struggling because of the pandemic. Photo: Pete Rosos

Berkeleyside is sharing this message about renter protections during COVID-19 from the city of Berkeley. It was published July 31 and appears below in full.

Protections, support for renters struggling due to COVID-19

If you’re struggling to pay rent due to COVID-19, know that landlords in Berkeley cannot evict you for non-payment – but you must notify your landlord in writing no more than 7 days after your rent is due.

Deferred rent payments are one of several options available to tenants struggling because of the pandemic. Berkeleyans at risk of losing their housing may also be eligible for a Housing Retention Grant.

Notify your landlord to qualify for deferred rent

Berkeley renters are protected by Berkeley’s emergency eviction moratorium during the COVID-19 State of Emergency, which is still in effect. During the State of Emergency, landlords can only evict tenants when necessary for health and safety reasons or pursuant to the Ellis Act.


Tenants who notify their landlords that they are unable to pay due to COVID-19 related financial losses will have twelve months to repay back rent after the local State of Emergency expires. A simple written notification via email or mail is sufficient, but you may be required to provide details at a later date. The Berkeley Rent Board has created a template you can use for this letter, available in English and Spanish.

Landlords in Berkeley cannot charge late fees on the deferred rent and cannot evict for unpaid rent.

Preserve documentation of financial hardship

In the future, you may need to prove how you were financially impacted by COVID-19. Make sure to keep documentation showing why you can’t pay the full rent.

Common ways people have been impacted include:


  • decrease in household income due to layoffs or reduction of hours
  • decrease in household income due to caregiving responsibilities, including child care needs arising from school closures
  • substantial out-of-pocket medical expenses
  • reduction in number of tenants in a group living situation

Examples of supporting documentation include:

  • termination notices
  • payroll checks or pay stubs
  • bank statements
  • letters, emails, or texts from an employers or supervisor
  • documentation of caregiving responsibilities, including those related to school closures
  • medical bills
  • Tenants cannot waive their rights under this protection, and landlords cannot offer incentives for tenants to waive their rights.

Housing Retention Grants

Berkeley residents at risk of losing their housing due to COVID-19 may be eligible for grants through our Housing Retention Program. Funds may be used to supplement rent for temporary or permanent housing, utility bills, or other housing-related expenses. Applicants will be required to submit documentation of their low-income status, rental agreement or lease, and other relevant information.

See our website for eligibility criteria and documentation requirements.

Landlord-tenant voluntary agreements for tenancies that began on or before March 3, 2020

Landlords may temporarily reduce or forgive rents to assist their tenants in coping with the COVID-19 crisis without permanently reducing the amount of rent that can be charged for the unit. However, under the Rent Control Ordinance, this may only be done for tenancies that began on or before March 3, 2020. Please contact a Housing Counselor at the Rent Board at (510) 981-7368 for further information.

Landlords and tenants must have a written agreement that must state that the reduction is temporary, and is not related to market conditions, habitability, or a reduction in housing services.


Written agreements entered into during the local State of Emergency may extend beyond the expiration of the local State of Emergency where the landlord and tenant expressly agree to the duration in writing. These agreements would not permanently reduce the rent an owner can charge at the end of the agreement.

Early lease termination for students

During the State of Emergency, Berkeley landlords may not impose fees on students who terminate their leases early, subject to certain conditions. However, a lease provision that provides for the tenant to pay a certain amount in order to avoid potential liability under state law for breaking their lease is allowed. If the landlord is not able to rent the unit to a new tenant, the student may still be liable for the remainder of the rent they would have owed under their lease.

Students who want to end a lease early due to the cancellation of in-person classes may negotiate an early termination agreement with their landlord. If the landlord and tenant reach a mutual agreement to end the lease and release the tenant from liability, the agreement may include a termination charge. If a student’s existing lease includes a buyout or termination fee option, the student may exercise this option.

For questions, contact the Rent Board at 510-981-7368 (RENT) or rent@cityofberkeley.info. You can also see their their COVID-19 page, watch a recent webinar on rental housing & COVID-19, and sign up for their email list, which is being used to contact people directly.