Tenants mount courthouse protest to end evictions in Santa Clara County
Derrick Sanderlin, a tenant organizer with Sacred Heart Community Service, joined tenants protesting evictions at the Santa Clara County Superior Court on Jan. 27. Photo by Eugene Luu.

Dozens of tenants and their advocates blocked the entrance to the Santa Clara County Superior Court in downtown San Jose this morning to protest ongoing evictions during the pandemic.

Nine protesters were arrested after sheriff’s deputies declared the demonstration unlawful. The demonstrators successfully shut down the courts in the morning but judges resumed hearing cases in the afternoon. There were no injuries to protesters or law enforcement, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

A state law currently prohibits landlords from evicting tenants financially impacted by COVID-19 for non-payment of rent. But advocates say property owners are finding any excuse they can to take tenants to court and terminate leases.

“The eviction moratorium now has so many loopholes,” said Betty Gabaldon, a tenant organizer from Concord. “And landlords are using that to evict people. We’re here to say that evictions are deadly and evictions are violent.”

Tenants blocked the entrance to the Santa Clara County Superior Court Jan. 27. Photo by Eugene Luu.

The purpose of the civil disobedience, organizers told San José Spotlight, is to end those legal proceedings and keep tenants housed.

“All across this country there are people who are standing up in front of these courts and shutting down evictions to make sure that people can stay in their homes during the pandemic,” said Derrick Sanderlin, an organizer with Sacred Heart Community Service in San Jose. “So I’m here to stand with them to do the same. We’re hoping to shut down hundreds of eviction cases today.”

In addition to shutting down the eviction proceedings inside, demonstrators demanded that Sheriff Laurie Smith stop enforcing the court’s eviction orders and locking tenants out during the pandemic. That led to some friction between her deputies and demonstrators.

The majority of protesters were orderly and peaceful, according to a statement provided to San José Spotlight by a Sheriff’s office spokesman. Others, spat on, taunted and threatened deputies according to the statement from law enforcement.

“Several protestors were physically blocking the entrance to the courthouse and disrupting day-to-day operations,” said department spokesman Sgt. Michael Low. “After nearly two hours of attempting to disperse the crowd, deputies announced via loudspeaker that the protest was officially considered an unlawful assembly.”

Nine people were arrested and taken to the county’s Main Jail Complex. Eight of those were cited and released for violating the order to disperse and one more was booked for resisting arrest and remains in jail as of 4:20 p.m. Jan. 27.

This week, the San Jose City Council voted to renew citywide tenant protections to keep renters in their homes regardless of their ability to pay. Meanwhile, California’s eviction moratorium expires in several days and Sacramento lawmakers are expected to consider an extension later this week.

But that’s not soon enough for Perla Odin, a San Jose tenant who attended the Jan. 27 protest. Odin told San José Spotlight she and her family have lost a significant amount of income since the pandemic started and could be evicted if state lawmakers don’t extend the moratorium.

“I feel desperate and stressed,” Odin said. “There isn’t enough work, they’ve cut my hours and we have bills that are piling up. We have to feed our families.”

More than 1 million California tenants were behind on rent at the end of 2020, according to a recent analysis by the Bay Area Equity Atlas and the Housing Now! California coalition. That’s nearly 1 in 5 renters statewide, including more than 37,000 households in Santa Clara County. Those tenants owe an average of $4,651 for a combined total of $173.5 million.

“Many people all over the Bay Area have lost their jobs,” Gabaldon said. “If they are working, it is very few hours and even then they are behind so much on the rent right now, it’s unbelievable.”

San Jose tenants’ rights advocate Robert Aguirre said he hasn’t been able to make the minimum rent payments to qualify for protection against eviction under the state law. But Aguirre, who lives in a one-bedroom on the city’s west side, said he’s been lucky that his landlord has been understanding about loss of income due to COVID-19.

“Many of his tenants have been able to pay rent,” Aguirre said. “So he’s not really hurting like some others. He’s been a lot more understanding and patient.”

Eugene Luu contributed to this report.

Contact Adam F. Hutton at [email protected] or follow @adamfhutton on Twitter.

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