Want to get some emotional support, make the next renters able to defeat the landlord you just could not stop, or change that stupid law that screwed your friend? Become a BTU Member by coming to our next general meeting on June 6th! We can also mail you a member form if you email us a request. Sign up in the right-hand column to get on our mailing list, and click the link to Berkeley Tenants on Facebook. We are also going to be at Berkeley Farmers Markets this summer!
If you are a Berkeley tenant in crisis, the first thing you need to do is figure out is which sets of laws apply to you and where you can go for free advice on your rights. YOU HAVE LOTS OF RIGHTS!
You can look online to see if you are covered by Rent Control, but just because your unit doesn’t appear on the Rent Board database does not always mean you are not covered. Also the Rent Ordinance gives renters many rights beyond just rent limits; for example, most units in Berkeley have Just Cause Eviction Protections even if you do not have controlled rent.
The Rent Boardoffers phone, email and drop-in help, but they tend to take a while (up to a week) to respond to messages, so BRING YOUR PAPERS and go see them!
Remember if you have an Eviction Notice (sometimes called a Summons or Complaint or Notice to Quit) you need help RIGHT AWAY. Sometimes you only have a FEW DAYS!
Although the East Bay Community Law Center will only help Extremely Low Income Renters (for example, two people must make less than $20,025 per year combined), they do hold periodic workshops for everyone. You must call 548.4040 to register for one.
BTU struggles to keep up with our counseling, which – for now – we can only do via email. It is best to write to us if you need help figuring out where to go first, want peer-to-peer assistance, or want to work on changing policies and laws. Also, drop us a line if you want to become a counselor or if you are an attorney who wants to get on the referrals list we are making.
Berkeley Tenant Deaths Unexplained
“But three months, one lawsuit and a procession of experts later, the source of the carbon monoxide remains a mystery. Toxicology professionals say that’s not just bizarre, but a possible danger to public health. With the question of origin unanswered, the city has red-tagged the apartment where they died but allowed tenants to stay in the building’s other three units…. In the Deakin Street unit, according to neighbors and authorities, a detector was located only on the ground floor, but not upstairs where the couple slept.” http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Berkeley-couple-s-mysterious-deaths-raise-11077092.php
Still Collecting Rent Next Door to Unexplained Deaths “Experts are calling the case “rare and odd,” noting it’s typically easy to pinpoint the origin of carbon monoxide in a case like this, and they add that the lack of answers is potentially a public health concern. Neighbors agree—though the unit where the Morashes lived has been red-tagged, the other three units in the building have been deemed safe…” http://www.newser.com/story/241431/deaths-of-couple-and-their-cats-baffle-cops-worry-neighbors.html
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS! Since 2013 all rental units with gas heat, appliances or garages have been required to have carbon monoxide detectors. Check your smoke and CO detectors today! STAY SAFE!
State Costa Hawkins Law Changes Delayed by Politics Former candidate for City Council Sean Barry wrote this anti-rent control article last week. Isn’t it a good thing Kriss Worthington kept his seat? In the article, Barry cites “research” from sources like Michael St. John, who works for Berkeley’s largest property owners! He also seems to think the Rent Board could change what is covered by Berkeley rent control – really, only the voters can do that, and we hope someday they will! http://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/04/13/opinion-costa-hawkins-repeal-shelved-lets-find-ways-lower-housing-costs/
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.
People’s Park Anniversary as UC Considers Building, Again April 23 is the anniversary celebration for People’s Park. “In 1968 the University used eminent domain to evict the residents and demolish all the houses on the block. Apparently they talked of plans to build needed student housing but nothing happened. For a year the empty lot was an eyesore, muddy and strewn with garbage. In April 1969 activists put out a call for people to help create a park. Hundreds came and cleared the ground, planted flowers and trees and built a children’s playground. They created a park, a People’s Park, that still lives today.” http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2017-03-31/article/45603?headline=Berkeley-s-People-s-Park-is-in-the-news-again–Lydia-Gans
Report Itself “This influx of capital has increased housing prices in many cities to levels that most residents cannot afford – in some cities by more than 50% in a 5-year period. Housing prices are no longer commensurate with household income levels, and instead are driven by demand for housing assets among global investors. When housing prices skyrocket, low and sometimes even middle-income residents are forced out of their communities by high rent or mortgage costs. When housing prices plummet, residents face mortgage foreclosure and homelessness.” http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21264&LangID=E
To comment to the Board, you must appear in person at 7 PM.
Short Term Rentals Tomorrow we hope the City Council will vote to pass (on second reading) a decent if not ideal law about short term rentals. BTU Steering decided to support this draft because the most important thing for Berkeley renters is that the city ENFORCE the rules about not turning rent controlled units into hotels! To date, the city has never responded to us about complaints BTU has filed regarding large landlords who rent multiple units on Airbnb. With the new City Council, and this new law, we hope to reduce the loss of permanent housing.
Save The Date: Better Tenant Protections As mentioned in our newsletter, the new Mayor Jesse Arreguin is going to move forward on better tenant protections by revising last year’s lame TPO. Council will review the new draft ordinance on March 14.
At a meeting in January, BTU selected fellow Tenants Union member Kate Harrison as the best candidate for renters in the District 4 Special Election for City Council.
Kate Harrison won overwhelming support at the endorsements meeting since she is already well-known for her leadership in getting the landlord tax passed last fall (Measure U1) as well as for her community work making sure big developers are forced to fund affordable units in Berkeley. Her platform also includes using a portion of the transfer tax on homes sold in Berkeley to fund even more low-income housing. Kate also wants to allow limited equity coops to use Housing Trust Fund money to purchase existing rental housing in order to keep it affordable.
The election is being held by mail to save costs. Ballots must be in by March 7th. The special election is needed because BTU member Jesse Arreguin, who was the District 4 Councilmember, was elected mayor last November.
“I would like to expand the current program helping building owners pay for energy improvements through their property taxes to include safety improvements for artists’ live/work spaces to avoid repeating the tragedy at the Oakland Ghost Ship. We cannot afford to lose our creative community either through disaster or displacement.” http://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/02/07/district-4-candidate-kate-harrison/
The Berkeley Rent Board will select a new Commissioner to fill the seat vacated when BTU’s Katherine Harr chose to resign for personal reasons. The Board’s timeline is very tight, with written applications due next week, but anyone can apply. The eight sitting Commissioners will hold a special meeting later this month, then form a committee to interview top applicants, and finally select a new Commissioner on March 20. That appointee will complete Harr’s term.
The Berkeley Tenants Union encourages members to apply.
How To Apply “In addition to the 500-word statement about their candidacy, all applications must include the candidate’s full legal name, current living address (post office boxes will not be accepted), telephone and other contact numbers. The applications may be mailed or dropped off at the Rent Board offices at 2125 Milvia St., Berkeley 94704, to the attention of Jen Fabish. Applicants can also email Fabish at firstname.lastname@example.org. All applications are public documents.” http://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/02/16/berkeley-rent-board-seeks-applicants-vacant-seat/
re: Item 1, Second Reading of Short Term Rentals Law
Berkeley Tenants Union letter to City Council
February 14, 2017
Berkeley Tenants Union members have spent countless hours waiting to address the City Council in the past several years to deliver our message: in order to protect our rental housing stock, Council should only ease the ban on Short Term Rentals (STRs) a little bit at a time. We have been asking City Council for years to please JUST allow renters and owners to rent THEIR OWN HOMES for the short term, and move on to enforcing the existing ban on other STRs as soon as possible.
We remind you that the ban on renting for less than 14 days was created to make sure there was not an easy way around rent control protections.
We remind you that all permanent housing – even housing that is not rent controlled – contributes to the diversity and affordability of Berkeley.
Some people say they want a compromise; allowing short term rentals for unlimited days when the owner is present WAS a compromise — those rooms could ALSO be used for students and other permanent residents.
We join the Rent Board in asking Council to please change the language in Section 23C.22.020D – BTU has always asked that Council not allow rentals for less than 14 days in any whole unit that could be used for people who live and work in Berkeley. Berkeley Tenants need you to preserve all existing housing for residents, and to create new housing. We do not want new accessory dwelling units (ADUs) to be used as vacation rentals – we worked hard to get that into the initial Council referral for the ADU law many years ago – but it did not get put into that final draft. Berkeley Tenants have always asked that Council not allow STRs in any existing in-laws, or even converted garages – if they have a kitchen. It doesn’t matter if someone bought it last week, wants to use it for their nanny, father or second cousin. Berkeley people need that housing!
We are very concerned that Section 23C.22.020D will encourage new owners to evict long term tenants.
BTU members have also been consistent in our other message — simple laws make for better enforcement. Allowing some ADUs to be short term rentals but not others will be confusing for owners as well as adding an additional layer, and thus additional costs, for enforcement.
We did not send people to the Council meeting on January 24th because we thought that the leaders we worked so hard to get elected this fall had heard our pleas. We are not asking members to come out on Tuesday for the same reason – we expect you to preserve housing and create new housing, not establish new hotel rooms.
Two Berkeley renters died last week in a case of carbon monoxide poisoning.
News reports did not say if the building’s owner was required to have installed a carbon monoxide detector, but BTU thought this would be a good time to remind all renters that MOST apartments have been required by state law to have CO detectors since 2013. Single-family and duplex homes were required to have the alarms as of July 2011.
Carbon monoxide does not smell. CO alarms are required on every floor, including basements, and should be placed in hallways outside of bedrooms. The law applies only to homes and buildings that have a gas heater or appliance, fireplace or attached garage. It is the renter’s responsibility to check and replace batteries.
500 People Die Each Year “Because it is not a disease that requires reporting for record keeping, it is difficult to find statistics on how many illnesses and deaths occur from carbon monoxide poisoning in the Bay Area. But about 500 people die and 20,000 are injured each year nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In San Francisco, Pacific Gas & Electric crews have responded to 757 carbon monoxide investigation calls so far in 2012, said utility spokesman Joe Molica.” http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Monoxide-detector-rules-expand-Jan-1-4079115.php