Just a year ago, CJ Paillant lived in a brand new apartment complex in Oakland’s Jack London Square with a rooftop terrace, a game lounge and a pool with a hot tub that he and a friend rented for nearly $5,400 a month.
But Paillant, a product manager for a Silicon Valley software company, lost his job early on in the pandemic. So did his roommate. Together, they now owe $43,804.72 in rent.
“I got stuck in my luxury apartment,” said Paillant, who stayed to avoid a fee for breaking his lease but has since moved to West Oakland. He hopes to negotiate a repayment plan with his former landlords, but Paillant knows he isn’t getting his former life back anytime soon. “Now I’ve got to raise this money. My life feels like a movie.”
More than one in seven California renters were behind on their rent payments at the end of last month, according to Census Bureau surveys. And even with a statewide eviction moratorium and federal and state rental relief, some formerly well-paid renters like Paillant have accumulated a level of debt they’re not sure how they’ll ever get out of. Experts say California’s relief law — SB 91 — does little to overcome renters’ uncertainty, leaving them unsure exactly how much they will owe when protections, which are set to expire July 1, end.
“The ball’s in the court of the landlord,” said Christopher Gil, associate director of marketing at the San Francisco-based Mission Economic Development Agency, which offers housing and