BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – Rent prices have increased by as much as 40% in Bakersfield and even in places like Fresno, Riverside and Visalia in the last three years, according to Zillow data.

This is forcing the most vulnerable renters onto the streets at a time when eviction rates nationwide are steadily rising.

Bakersfield Tenants Union Founder Wendell “J.R.” Wesley Jr. says he has experienced this firsthand after his landlord increased his rent, forcing him to nearly face eviction.

“It was more than the legal amount it was exactly 100 that was the first tell […] As I started going around the complex everyone got a $100 rate increase, so I knew it was bologna and I knew I had to do something about it,” Wesley said.

That led Wesley to seek help from the Leadership Counsel, which is an advocacy organization in Bakersfield that assists low-income communities. After the group’s help, the rental increase was rescinded four days later before he was subjected to either the increase or eviction.

However, Wesley said many are not as informed.

“The problem was a lot of the seniors mentally are not all the way there and some of them are still paying more than the legal amount but they don’t want any problems […] it’s just wrong to take advantage of people that way,” Wesley said.

Emma De La Rosa is one of the two people behind Leadership Counsel and says the group has helped more than 50 residents and sees more in need of help every day due to the increase in rental prices and evictions.

“When you look at the data, Bakersfield has had the highest numbers of rental increases in the state since the start of the pandemic it increased close to 40% and the average rent is close to 1700 dollars however income levels are not increasing,” De La Rosa said.

However, property managers in Bakersfield share that a lot of working with the tenant is done before it ever gets to eviction.

“Some companies unfortunately do rental increases they’re not supposed to, but you are aware of the increase before it happens,” Lucia O’Donoghue, Property Manager of ALL Property Management & Sales, said

“If they’re just completely unresponsive and just not willing to work with us those are the people that we do have to evict but if they say something happened this month, or we need some time, or can we do a payment plan, we absolutely want to work with them everybody needs a place to live,” Nik Boone, CEO of Ascend Real Estate and Property Management, said.

However, De La Rosa says that more policies to protect tenants could change that and is calling on city officials to consider rent control.

“Because of their lack of policies there is a housing shorting, and there aren’t any protections for rent increases […] it’s up to the city to decide if they want to take that local control and implement policies that will protect residents,” said De La Rosa.

For more information on Statewide Rent Caps and Eviction Protections, click here.