Soft story behind bars

The Planning Commission seeks YOUR input on changes to the demolition ordinance. A draft from the City Manager’s office would allow a new developer to tear down rent controlled buildings with no mitigation as long as the units are empty — this would encourage evictions and harassment! In addition, there has been discussion about making it “easier” for a landlord who lives in the building to combine your unit with theirs — leaving you No Place to Live!

Come to the hearing this Wednesday at the North Berkeley Senior Center
— 1901 Hearst at 7 PM.

Handful of Money

Senator Mark Leno (D – San Francisco) has announced the introduction of SB 603, a bill to promote fair treatment of tenant security deposits. SB 603 would require deposit funds to be held in separate accounts — and it will require interest payments to tenants on any funds held — another rule tenants in Berkeley are lucky to have already.

But many tenants know that having a law and getting access to interest or even return of a security deposit are two different things. So Leno’s bill calls for penalties if deposit funds are improperly withheld. SB 603 is co-sponsored by Tenants Together — the statewide organization of which BTU is a proud member — as well as the Western Center on Law and Poverty and California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.

Watch this space for more on what you can do to help make this bill into law!  Right now, you can show your support here:

ABC Warning screen shot

On May 20, several BTU members joined with UC Berkeley students for Housing Advisory Commissioner Igor Tregub’s Third Annual Day of Seismic Safety. We visited a number of buildings on the City’s “soft story” list — mostly apartments built over garages – which engineers identified as expected to pancake in an earthquake, leaving no time for residents to escape. Although the Planning Dept. tracks compliance with part of the 2006 law known as “Soft Story Part One,” city staff has said they cannot afford to check to make sure landlords are following another part of the law — the part where they tell tenants the building they are living in could kill them!

We visited many buildings that have posted the required signage since the first and second Days of Seismic Safety, but some which still have not posted the warning signs.

We spoke to a number of tenants who want to join with BTU in asking that the city actually enforce the law and, more importantly, make “Soft Story Part Two” — in which the buildings actually get retrofit!

Most importantly, as the news story linked below tells us, landlords want tenants to pay for the retrofit and blame rent control for not repairing their unsafe buildings. Please JOIN US to resist unwarranted rent increases!

soft story sign

BTU will join in the third annual Day of Seismic Safety March 20

Beginning at 5 PM on the steps at UC’s Sproul Plaza, Berkeley activists will join UC students in visiting tenants who live in units on the city’s list of unsafe “soft story” buildings. BTU will join with others in pushing the city to require these buildings be retrofit!

Hundreds of Berkeley properties meet the city’s soft-story definition— a wood-frame structure with five or more units and a ground level containing large openings like storefronts, garages or tuck-under parking. Jennifer Strauss,  external relations officer at the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory, compared soft-story buildings to houses on  stilts. “The large open spaces on the ground floor that are unreinforced cannot withstand lateral forces,” Strauss said. “When the ground shakes back and forth, they end up collapsing.”

Read more here — and comment on the article if you can!

Cat in the window

Daily Californian on vacancy decontrol and other tenant issues. BTU supporters should go online and post comments to respond to landlord’s claims of “meager earnings.” Rents in the building discussed – which has over 75 units — total over $50,000 a month per the Rent Stabilization Board rent tracking website (which only shows rents for about 50 units, because the other units are masked from public view for various reasons — so the rents are more likely $75,000 a month).

Take Action

BTU is joining with Tenants Together and others to stop rampant security deposit theft.

Landlords hold billions of dollars in security deposits. Deposit theft is one of the most common grievances for California’s 15 million renters. Improper withholding has become so common that many tenants have given up on ever seeing this money again. This has got to change.

Learn more about the statewide campaign here:

Meter and stairs

National Affordable Housing Campaign Launches!

Will you PLEDGE to expand the supply of affordable rental housing and protect renters’ rights, make banks and corporations pay their fair share, restrict speculation in the housing market, support community land trusts and develop the leadership of residents in need of affordable homes?