Update: Thursday March 18 is now the day TOPA will be before the City Council’s Land Use, Housing & Economic Development Committee at 10:30AM.
This Thursday, the Berkeley City Council’s Land Use Committee will hold a final hearing on The Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA). Now is the time to get involved!
ACTION: Write to PolicyCommittee@cityofberkeley.info today to express your support. “I stand with the Berkeley Tenants Union in expressing enthusiasm for the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act.”
If all goes as planned, the City Council will vote on this at their April 20th meeting.
Berkeley’s TOPA is the first ordinance of its kind in the state of California, but other places have tried this model – and it works! Washington DC passed a similar law in 2002; that law has preserved over 3500 units of affordable housing in the capital.
The desperate opposition is hyperbolically claiming TOPA will “seize your private property.” While for those without property, that may not seem like a bad idea – it’s just not true! The new law would just give renters AN OPTION to pay market price before their homes are sold to a new landlord. But it also SETS UP HELP for a group of renters to buy, including the opportunity to work with affordable housing groups who may fund some of the cost, and access to special loans.
As BTU member and Berkeley leader Igor Tregub put it, TOPA “reflects core Berkeley values such as cooperative ownership, democratic control, and the empowerment of underserved communities.” It is supported by Mayor Arreguin, and the East Bay Community Law Center has done substantial work shepherding the law through its five-year process to this point – where we almost have it!
BTU is resuming our clinics and workshops for renters. This month, counseling will take place from 6 to 8:30 PM on Thursday, July 25. Sessions will be scheduled in advance and take place at BTU’s headquarters in the Grassroots House on Blake near Shattuck.
Renters can sign up for a chance to speak with tenant attorneys about your situation by clicking the link below.
For information on future counseling dates, workshops, or other places to get help, email us at info at berkeleytenants dot org or visit our resources page on this website. You can also like our facebook and sign up for the mailing list by using the links right here >>>>>
Anti-Displacement Workshop for Berkeley Residents: What can you do if you are being priced out of Berkeley?
When: Saturday, March 30, 4-5:30PM Where: Berkeley Public Library West Branch (1125 University Avenue) Hosted by: Bay Area Community Land Trust (BACLT)
The Bay Area Community Land Trust (BACLT) will host a workshop on preventing displacement of Berkeley residents. BACLT is particularly interested in meeting with current Berkeley residents who are under threat of being displaced or are worried about eventual displacement due to the rising costs of housing.
The Community Power Slate sponsors a Yes on 10 forum:
SUNDAY OCTOBER 21 – 3 PM South Berkeley Senior Center 2939 Ellis Street at Ashby
Community Power Slate
Elect a Pro-Tenant Rent Board in Berkeley
For over a quarter century, Berkeley progressives have come together to choose a consensus slate for the Rent Board. This spring, the Berkeley Tenant Convention chose local leaders John Selawsky (formerly on the School Board) and Paola Laverde, currently the Rent Board’s Vice Chair and an outspoken advocate for Yes on Prop 10. Also on the Community Power Slate for Berkeley Rent Board are James Chang, UCB junior Soli Alpert, and Maria Poblet, a founder of Causa Justa Oakland.
Berkeley City Council
BTU endorsed Kate Harrison (District 4: Downtown) and Igor Tregub (District 1: Fourth Street, North Berkeley BART). Igor used to be on the Rent Board and has always been a solid advocate for tenants. Kate is the wisest leader in Berkeley, with a lot of behind the scenes experience in San Francisco’s crazier days. She has done amazing work for affordable housing on the City Council in her very short term.
BTU also endorsedRigel Robinson, a newcomer whose website mentions nothing about renters in the housing policy statement. He is currently External Affairs Vice President of the ASUC and will fill the district with the most renters, taking the place of longtime tenant leader Kriss Worthington, who has endorsed Robinson.
“Rigel believes we need to build more housing, for all students, right next to campus, right now. As a City Councilmember, he’ll push for zoning requirements that allow for taller, denser buildings around campus — while fighting for more units that are affordable.” https://rigelrobinson.com/
Finally, BTU endorsedMary Kay Laceyfor District 8. Lacey will fight for renters in the district which has been represented by Lori Droste, who repeatedly voted to eliminate rent controlled units through demolitions and conversions to Air BnB. Lacey became known for her work on the Task Force to Save Alta Bates hospital.
“Protect against displacement by building targeted affordable housing for students, working families and those facing eviction… I am also fully committed to the Pathways Project and a ‘housing first’ solution to our homelessness crisis.” https://lacey2018.com/issues/
State Assembly: Jovanka Beckles
Rent Board: Soli Alpert, James Chang, Paola Laverde, Maria Poblet, John Selawsky (Community Power Slate)
Council District 1: Igor Tregub
Council District 4: Kate Harrison
Council District 7: Rigel Robisnon
Council District 8: Mary Kay Lacey
BTU-Endorsed Housing Measures:
Prop 10 (Costa-Hawkins Repeal): YES!
Measure O (Affordable Housing Bond): Yes
Measure P (Transfer Tax for Homeless Services): Yes
Measure Q (Rent Board Amendments): No Endorsement
Prop 1 (Affordable Housing Bond): Yes
Prop 2 (Homeless Prevention Bond): Yes
Prop 5 (Property Tax Break): No
Now, The Good News
At their 10th anniversary celebration, the statewide renters group Tenants Together chose to honor Berkeley’s own Julia Cato, who has worked hard with several groups – including BTU – to make sure the voices of seniors and tenants are heard by the folks who represent us.
Tenants Together also has a counselor trainingcoming up. I don’t think anyone does counseling for BTU since I left, so someone really should try to get the program up and running again! Tenants could use a peer advocate to help them navigate the bureaucracies that govern, even if California does get some better laws this election day!
More Worried About Trump than Lakireddy?
Get Involved on the National Level!
The Right to the City Alliance / Homes For All held their second national Renter Power Assembly this summer, with over 100 tenant groups coming together from all over the United States. Start by joining their mailing list to give renters a unified voice on national housing policy!
“If the housing crisis has been slow to register at the level of national politics, it’s not for lack of momentum at the grassroots. There is no major city in the United States today without a multitude of tenants’ rights groups, and “gentrification” has, in the span of a decade, crossed from left-wing academic journals into everyday language. From coast to coast, a loosely organized, intersectional, and bottom-up movement is coalescing around housing justice—the idea that housing is inextricable from a range of other issues like racial justice, poverty, the environment, immigration, and the rights of the formerly incarcerated.” https://righttothecity.org/
Tuesday the City Council will vote on a proposed ballot measure updating the rent laws to prepare Berkeley for a world without Costa-Hawkins. One of the major changes is that buildings build after 1980 could be rent controlled! Right now, the state law Costa-Hawkins says that cannot happen. The Berkeley City Council will be discussing how old a building should be before rent increases are limited. They seem to favor setting this period to be between 12-15 years. Maybe you would like all buildings under rent control NOW?
BTU member Paola Laverde sent in the information below:
Berkeley Renters We Need You!
The Rent Is Too Damn High!
Come out to Tuesday’s City Council meeting and make sure your voice is heard as the City Council debates whether to expand rent control.
We need you there to ensure that the City Council does not cave in to developers who want to delay new rent control for 20 YEARS OR MORE!
Where: Council Chambers: 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
When: Tuesday, July 31, 2018 at 6 P. M.
What: The Council will be debating how long rent control should be delayed on newly constructed rental units. The proposal before them is 12 to 15 years. However, property owners and developers are screaming that nothing less than 20 to 30 years is acceptable.
If tenants do not raise their voices loudly, the City Council may cave in to property owners and developers, leaving renters to suffer as already unaffordable rents sky rocket even higher.
The decision reached by the Council on Tuesday night may be put on the November 6, 2018, ballot for Berkeley voters to decide. It will only go into effect if Proposition 10, the Affordable Housing Act, is approved by California voters.
Now is the time to take a stand against big money and the rental housing industry that is responsible for the affordability crisis impacting Berkeley.
Affordable Housing Forum January 21
BTU, in conjunction with Berkeley Citizens Action, Progressive Student Association, and CalSERVE, are hosting an event on affordable housing, with guest speakers including Mayor Jesse Arreguin, Councilmember Kate Harrison, and Rent Board Commissioner Leah Simon-Weisberg. Topics include rent control expansions, student housing, and the newly proposed state law, SB827, which would take away more local control over large for-profit housing developments. At the library Sunday the 21st, from 2pm-4pm. https://www.facebook.com/events/213062839239569/
Counselor Training February 7 and 8th
Our friends at Tenants Together are offering a Tenants Rights Counselor Training. They cover state law, and refer renters with Berkeley-specific problems to us or the Rent Board. Taking their training or volunteering on their hotline is a great first step toward counseling for BTU. Right now, BTU has only one person answering questions from renters. Help us help Berkeley tenants!
Contact Sara (415) 495-8100
BTU on Campus Thursday February 8th
Cal Dems and the Progressive Student Association have invited BTU to discuss housing issues at 8pm. The location on campus is TBD, so check the Facebook event. This meeting is open to both students and non-students. https://www.facebook.com/events/213062839239569/
Tenants Endorsement MeetingFebruary 11 Meet all nine candidates for the open Assembly race for District 15. Pamela Price, challenger for Alameda County District Attorney, will also be present. While this event is open to all, you must be a member of BTU who has attended at least one other meeting in the past year and have paid dues in order to vote. Sunday February 11, 2 to 6 pm at South Berkeley Senior Center.
2018 Tenant Convention
Planning has begun for largest tenant gathering in Berkeley, the biannual convention to choose a united team to run for Berkeley Rent Board. Contact BTU if you are interested in being a candidate, and follow developments about this year’s meeting on the tcon website: http://berkeleytenantsconvention.net/
Your Name Here I moved away from Berkeley but so far no one at BTU has stepped up to manage the website, and no one is really sending me any content. Does someone in Berkeley want to take on this task for BTU?
The State of Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin is a renter who rose to prominence as strong voice for tenants when he chaired Berkeley’s Rent Board and while he represented the downtown area on City Council. His first State of the City address highlighted his dedication to affordable housing and antidisplacement.
BCA Progressive Town Hall Sunday July 15
Progressive Town Meeting with many City Council members – sponsored by our good friends at Berkeley Citizens Action: Sunday July 16, 3-5pm at the South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis Street.
Berkeley Rent Control – in 1942! “Bay Area housing rent control went into effect July 1, 1942, and the first day of required registration was July 15. Anyone who rented an apartment, house, or room had to register and list the rents. “No landlord may now charge a rent higher than that prevailing on March 1, 1942”, the Gazette noted on July 15. “Any tenant who for personal reasons, privately agrees to pay more than the legal rate is equally guilty of evading the law.” Six stations had been set up to receive registration forms.” http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2017/07/10/berkeley-a-look-back-wartime-introduces-city-to-rent-control/
On Student Housing “The old dorms, forced by state policy to be financially self-sustaining, are already insanely expensive. And now, with UC Berkeley pitching itself to wealthy out-of-state students who pay high fees , with an emphasis on the privileged offspring of well-off foreigners, even pricier alternatives are on offer, under the rubric of “Affiliated Properties.” What does this mean? If you click under this heading on the UC Housing website, you see these three buildings: Garden Village Apartments; New Sequoia Apartments; Panoramic Residences. The first two were originally permitted by the city of Berkeley as tax-paying private rental development, the kind marketed as “luxury apartments. Presumably the third, developed in San Francisco by Patrick Kennedy, who made his original fortune in Berkeley, is in the same category. Now, however, they seem to have been subsumed into UCB’s housing schemes. Are they consequently off the tax rolls?” http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2017-07-07/article/45868?headline=UC-expansion-engulfs-Berkeley–Becky-O-Malley
San Mateo County Study on Displacement If you know me, you know I love data. Data from this new study of evictions and displacement in San Mateo County could help Berkeley leaders make the case for more funding for enforcement of eviction protections and rental assistance as a means of homelessness prevention.
“The surveys found that of the people who reported being displaced in the last two years, one in three had experienced homelessness or marginal housing (defined as living in a motel or hotel, renting a garage, or “couch-surfing”); only one in five was able to find a new place to live within a mile of their former residence; and one in three left the county. Several reported that their families had to split up to find housing.”
BTU Calls For Landlords to Be Fined for Campaign Violations, Again On Thursday, May 18, 2017, Berkeley’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission (FCPC) would not decide to enforce the Berkeley Election Reform Act. Commissioner Dean Metzger asked that the staff report include past violations from the same offenders after BTU pointed out their history. In addition, Commissioner Greg Harper asked the city attorney for further information.
The next FCPC meeting will be Thursday, July 20, 2017
BTU LETTER: BTU letter for FCPC
June 13 City Council Votes on Developer Fees On Tuesday, June 13 the City Council will hold a public hearing to increase the affordable housing mitigation fee from $34,000 ($30,000 if paid when the building permit is issued) to $37,000 ($34,000 if paid when the building permit issue is issued). The affordable housing mitigation fee is one of the primary ways that the city funds affordable housing, making this increase extremely important.
You can let the city council know that you support the increase by emailing email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
Santa Rosa Nears Rent Control Vote “The largest contribution reported to date to the landlord committee, called “Citizens for Fair and Equitable Housing — No on C,” was $280,000 from the political action committee of the California Association of Realtors. A treasurer for the committee referred questions to the spokesman for the California Apartment Association…” http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/6793101-181/money-pouring-in-to-fight?artslide=0
The Democratic Party Supports Rent Control “The California Democratic Party supports rent control and just cause for eviction. This is a big deal. Many California Democratic lawmakers are in the pocket of the real estate industry, just like Republicans. They regularly vote against tenants to make sure they continue getting landlord and realtor money. Just recently, only 24 of 80 legislators voted for Assemblymember Rob Bonta’s bill to stop Ellis Act evictions of SRO hotel units in Oakland. If you are scratching your head as to how a narrow bill to stop evictions of some of the most vulnerable tenants in Oakland could lose by a landslide in the California Assembly where Democrats have a two-thirds majority, you obviously haven’t been in the halls of the Capitol recently….” http://48hills.org/2017/05/23/historic-vote-democratic-party-supports-rent-control/
Owner Move In Evictions in Local Spotlight “It is known that some landlords pretend it’s an owner move-in situation simply to evict lower-rent tenants, and then re-rent units for higher rents. Investors buying duplexes, or other small properties with only a few units, with the intention either to hold on to them or flip them, may tell long-term tenants they plan to move in, just to try to get them to move without going through a legal eviction process.” http://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/05/25/berkeley-sees-increase-owner-move-evictions-landlords/
I am thrilled that Maria is taking over my seat on the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board!
“Poblet served many years as executive director at St. Peter’s Housing Committee in San Francisco and then spearheaded a merger with Just Cause Oakland in 2010 to form Causa Justa. The new group brought together one organization that had spent 25 years organizing Latinos with one that had spent 10 years organizing Blacks to push for economic and racial justice. Causa Justa is now the largest tenants’ rights group in the Bay Area. Poblet served as the organization’s executive director from 2010 until early 2017.” http://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/05/16/prominent-tenants-rights-activist-appointed-berkeley-rent-board/
Businesses do not like to be regulated. In fact, Airbnb sued San Francisco, Santa Monica, and New York City quite some time ago about the same issue they have now threatened to sue Berkeley about – yet in all the discussions City Council had about short term rentals (STRs), they have never discussed those lawsuits?
Airbnb and HomeAway say they are protected when they advertise illegal rentals just like YouTube and Yelp are protected when they host user content. Not exactly the same thing? Craigslist was recently found not to be responsible for housing ads that ban minorities, with the court saying it would be like FedEx looking in every package. However, Airbnb makes money directly off the services it markets and also already claims to vet the listings in other ways. Are short term rental hosting platforms like social media, or are they like e-commerce sites?
Airbnb has invoked Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. As San Francisco Deputy City Attorney Robb Kapla said, Section 230 doesn’t apply. “San Francisco is regulating commercial transactions, not speech,” he said.
Also, some Council members have said to me that if Berkeley doesn’t give in to the mega corporation’s threats, then Berkeley’s new STR Law could be put on hold – that would be great! Right now, short term rentals are just illegal! Why not just enforce that so we can have those 200-400 homes for rent again?
That is the real problem with Short Term Rentals in Berkeley – that the city staff and city leaders have refused to enforce ANY short term rental provisions while trying to get a law legalizing some of the rentals in place. Berkeley is sending the wrong message – essentially telling owners it’s OK to break the law. By changing our new law in response to a threat instead of joining Santa Monica and San Francisco in fighting for our housing, Berkeley is sending another wrong message.
San Francisco’s law was not put on hold, just enforcement of the provision fining platforms who list illegal hosts. So why doesn’t Berkeley join on the side of SF and Santa Monica the way that HomeAway and some big property managers have joined on the side of Airbnb? If Berkeley won’t fight the lawsuit, why not file an amicus brief?
Instead the City Council voted unanimously to edit the new law – a law that has had countless public hearings and been debated for almost three years – just the way Airbnb asked them to!
Additionally, the Council report our new renter-Mayor Jesse Arreguin submitted said that changing this key enforcement provision will cost Berkeley nothing. But Berkeley contracts with an outside vendor to (not do) its enforcement. If every ad has to show the host has registered, how much easier will it be to see who is legal and who is not? How much money will that save Berkeley?
Again, it would also be really easy to see who is breaking the law if we just went back to not allowing any short term rentals, and enforced that! Isn’t that what our leaders should be saying to Airbnb? Isn’t this just a big game of chicken?
Then the item from Jesse Arreguin goes even further: it says Berkeley will lose money if Council doesn’t do what Airbnb wants, not because we will be sued, but because we won’t get revenue from short term rental listings. Like we just sold Berkeley’s housing rights? Actually we could generate a lot of money by fining all the people who are already breaking the law.
Shouldn’t the City Council have at least held a closed session to discuss pending litigation before they let Airbnb off the hook?
Santa Monica responded to their lawsuit – which actually claims the law violates the US Constitution – by making their rules even stricter and demanding any business renting for the short term appear on a public city registry just like other small businesses do. This is something BTU asked for in Berkeley, so we could make complaints and track enforcement by being able to see who is legally registered. But even Berkeley’s new City Council would not do this for tenants. The registry is not public.
In San Francisco, New York, and many other places they have moved toward more and more restrictive laws because owners just continue to ignore them. In San Francisco, Airbnb made a big show of taking 900 of the thousands of illegal listings off of their site. In New York, you can now call 311 if you think your neighbor is running an illegal hotel.
Santa Monica recently won a case where a large landlord created fake profiles to get around the local laws. BTU has found several owners with fake profiles, including some who rent all the rooms in one house under two different “host profiles” to disguise that they are renting a whole unit, since renting rooms is allowed under Berkeley’s new law.
Another trend we see in Berkeley is that large landlords who had complaints filed against them just move their listings away from Airbnb and HomeAway and try to hide them on Sabbatical Homes, Flipkey, or even Craigslist.
Berkeley Council Has Second Reading April 25th – it’s not too late!
Meet the New Boss, Same As the Old Boss? “After over two years of discussion and a lengthy community process, the City Council voted on an ordinance that would regulate Short Term Rentals (STRs) in a balanced way that ensures people can rent out a spare unit, while preventing the exploitation of converting units into mini-hotels. The ordinance provides a method of enforcement that would make it easy to identify violators, and prevent Accessory Dwelling Units from being used as STRs (a position 8 out of 9 members of the Council agreed on). However, during the second reading of the ordinance, last minute changes were proposed that jeopardized the entire process. Despite a previous consensus, several Councilmembers are backtracking as a result of intensive lobbying from Airbnb, which among other things would make it very difficult to enforce.” Jesse Arreguin, July 2016 Newsletter
Airbnb Letter to Berkeley and City Council Response “After consultation with AirBnB representatives and City Attorney, it is prudent to strike this section to avoid unnecessary litigation so the ordinance can move forward and so AirBnB can work cooperatively with the city in implementation.” 2017-04-04 Item 11 Amending BMC Section 23C 22 050, Short-Term Rental-1
San Francisco Lawsuit: Initial Ruling Against AirBnB “City Attorney Dennis Herrera applauded the ruling. “I am grateful for Judge Donato’s thoughtful ruling recognizing that just because Airbnb and Homeaway conduct their business online, they are not exempt from any regulation of their commercial transactions,” he said in a statement. “Online businesses don’t get a free pass from the types of regulations that apply to other businesses in San Francisco.” http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/Airbnb-rebuked-in-SF-lawsuit-10602042.php
Why San Francisco is Winning “James Donato, a US District Court Judge for California’s Northern District, didn’t see it that way. In November 2016, he dealt a major setback to Airbnb when he rejected the company’s request to block the ordinance. Donato didn’t buy Airbnb’s Section 230 argument. As he put it, San Francisco’s ordinance doesn’t treat Airbnb as the publisher of illegal rental listings, nor does it force Airbnb to police its website and remove such listings. It simply holds Airbnb accountable for its own conduct: providing “booking services” in connection with unregistered units.” https://backchannel.com/the-most-important-law-in-tech-has-a-problem-64f5464128b6
Santa Monica Sued In September “The goal of Santa Monica’s legislation is to eliminate so-called “rentalpreneurs”, people who use services like Airbnb to lease out several units that, critics argue, would otherwise be used as housing stock in L.A.’s historically tight rental market. For example, a group of evicted tenants sued their former landlord last December, after their old homes showed up in Airbnb’s listing pages.” http://laist.com/2016/09/03/airbnb_sues_santa_monica_over_airbn.php
Tech Industry Wants Its Shield “…Detractors say the law has been applied too broadly, and judges have pushed back in a string of recent cases. Section 230 was intended to protect free speech online by removing liability for a newspaper, say, for libelous comments posted on their websites by readers.
But Deputy City Attorney Robb Kapla said Section 230 doesn’t apply.” San Francisco is regulating commercial transactions, not speech,” he said.” http://www.reuters.com/article/us-tech-court-idUSKCN10T0ET
Craigslist Not Responsible for Housing Discrimination “Traditional statutes are now being applied to e-commerce models. For instance, the anti-discrimination clauses of the United States (“US”) Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) have been examined in the case of online classifieds companies like Craigslist. And, a clause under the Communication Decency Act (applicable to explicit content) has been applied to this case.” http://www.ibls.com/internet_law_news_portal_view.aspx?s=latestnews&id=2014
Related Issue – Renters Subletting
In Berkeley, the new STR law prohibits renters from doing a short term rental without permission from the owner. BTU didn’t oppose this even though it seems unfair on the surface. That is because we hear about renters getting evicted for using platforms like Airbnb. Not only do most written leases prohibit subletting and assignment (like taking money to let someone else use your apartment) – the Rent Ordinance also does not allow a master tenant (person on the lease) to charge more than the rent controlled rent. That means if the rent is $2000 a month, the rent is about $66 a day, and charging more than that is against the law.