Fights broke out at Freehouse Pub as tenants protested a party celebrating the end of tenant protections throughout the City of Berkeley.
On the evening of September 12, local landlords with the Berkeley Property Owners Association (BPOA) hosted a private mixer at Freehouse Pub to celebrate the end of Berkeley’s eviction moratorium.
“I think it’s pretty insensitive and shows how they’re not really part of the community,” Rent Board chair Leah Simon-Wiesberg told Street Spirit. “To me it’s just shocking that anybody could celebrate that now more people are vulnerable to eviction.”
The eviction moratorium, which officially expired on August 31, 2023, banned all evictions throughout the city with the exception of those filed under the Ellis Act, which effectively takes a property off the market, and those that are the result of health and safety issues.
Berkeley was the final city in Alameda County to end this COVID-era tenant protection. Neighboring cities that ended their moratoriums earlier this summer have already seen a “tsunami” of evictions. So far in Berkeley, six evictions have been filed since the beginning of the summer, when the eviction moratorium began to soften, according to Simon-Weisberg.
As news of the mixer became public on Monday afternoon, Tenant and Neighborhood Councils (TANC), a local autonomous tenants union, responded with calls for protest outside Freehouse, stating in their Tuesday press release that “to celebrate the resumption of evictions is incredibly cruel and we can’t let them host this event without a rebuttal from the tenants.”
Over 100 community and tenant union members promptly mobilized in solidarity with TANC’s call to action. Protestors played music from a large bluetooth speaker, passed out flyers to passersby, and formed a picket line to disrupt and discourage landlord’s from joining the party. As members of BPOA arrived they were met with chants like “Parasite!” and “Hey hey! Ho ho! The landlord class has got to go!”
While some landlords attempted to talk to protestors before entering Freehouse, many attendees walked through the picket line with smiles on their faces, filmed protestors from the bar’s front steps, or avoided the crowds by entering through the side entrance.
Energy remained high among protestors as the event continued into the evening, becoming a party of its own. Emphasizing the celebratory nature of tenant solidarity and the insensitivities of BPOA’s event, they passed out free pizza and noisemakers. As attendees arrived, protestors offered them a cake reading “Hey landlords, get a real job!”
Tensions shifted about an hour and half into the rally when protestors entered Freehouse to present party attendees with the cake, filtering into Freehouse’s back courtyard and surrounding its perimeter with chants of “Eat the cake! Eat the cake!”
Within minutes, verbal exchanges between landlords and tenants broke out into a series of violent confrontations. At one point, a female member of TANC who was trying to break up the fight was slapped across the face by a male party attendee, according to witnesses and videos recorded by Street Spirit. The fight ended quickly, and the protest left Freehouse within five minutes of entering the building.
According to reporting in Berkeleyside, BPOA President Krista Gulbransen said that when she requested the presence of the Berkeley Police, who had been outside observing the protest, they refused to enter Freehouse.
Community and tenant union members then marched through the upper Southside neighborhood and regrouped blocks away, emphasizing in a short debrief that their solidarity and immediate response to BPOA’s event was an effective step in building working-class tenant power as Berkeley’s eviction moratorium comes to a close.
“It’s not going to be easy, we all know that,” a member of TANC said to the crowd of protestors, “it’s not going to be fuckin’ easy. But you know what, if we get together, if we stick together, and go by the old school ethos of solidarity and ‘victory for one is victory for all,’ we will win.”
Though the eviction moratorium has ended, Berkeley tenants still cannot be evicted for rent that was accrued before September 1, 2023 if it was due to COVID, according to the Berkeley Rent Board. Tenants may still ultimately be responsible for paying the back rent, and landlords can take tenants to small claims court for unpaid rent, even if the nonpayment was COVID-related. But tenants may not be evicted solely for non-payment of rent due to COVID, Simon-Weisberg told Street Spirit.
Bradley Penner is the Co-Editor in Chief of Street Spirit.