In Berkeley, tenants have a right to live in safe housing and landlords are required to certify that the housing they are renting out meets safety standards. That’s why, every July 1st, owners of rental housing in Berkeley must certify that their units meet those safety standards. They do this by utilizing the Rental Housing Safety Program (RHSP) Self Certification Safety Checklist known as Schedule A. All owners of rental property, even those with only one or two units, are required to fill out the form every year. The Schedule A form, which was revised in September 2018, requires the owner to certify that the structural elements of the building, both inside and out, are functioning properly and safely.
For instance, the form asks that owners certify that doors have working deadbolts; that windows are fully operable with no cracked or broken panes; and that the heating system, plumbing and gas lines are in good working order. Landlords must also certify that elevated, exposed decks, balconies or walkways show no visible signs of sagging, leaning, or cracking and that they have no other defects that permit moisture to seep in and possibly deteriorate the structure. In 2015, a balcony at the apartment complex formerly known as Library Gardens collapsed because moisture had seeped into the base of the balcony, resulting in the death of six Irish students.
The City does not require owners to provide it with the certified checklist, instead, the owner must provide the Schedule A checklist to each tenant; this informs the tenant that the unit is certified as safe. The owner must also keep a copy of the form. In order to completely fill out all elements of the Schedule A form, a tenant must allow the owner access to the unit once every year. If a tenant does not allow an owner into the unit to self-certify, the owner must then inform the City by submitting Schedule A to the RHSP office indicating that certification was not possible.
The RHSP is part of the City’s existing program of conducting proactive inspections to randomly selected properties as well as inspections in response to complaints. During an inspection of a rental unit or room, the property owner is required to produce a copy of the completed ScheduleA form. If the owner fails to produce a copy of the form, the inspector may issue the owner a citation and a $200 fine, for not being in compliance with Berkeley Municipal Code (BMC) 12.48.050.
There are, however, exceptions to the owner self-certification requirement: newly constructed rental units are exempt for five years after the issuance of a certification of occupancy; additionally, once a unit or room has been inspected by the City, and the owner receives a Notice of Compliance, the unit or room does not need to be certified again for a period of three years.
Tenants living in units that have safety issues, such as broken windows or leaky roofs may make an inspection request to the City’s Housing Code Enforcement unit.
Berkeley Tenants Union Membership Meeting/Relaunch When: Monday, June 3, 6-8:30PM Where: Sports Basement (2727 Milvia St., Berkeley, California 94703; located in South Berkeley) Facebook event:www.facebook.com/events/1656290374677685/
the Berkeley Tenants Union on June 3 (6-8:30PM) at Sports Basement in
South Berkeley (2727 Milvia St, Berkeley, CA 94703) for a general
membership meeting/relaunch of BTU! Whether you were previously a member
of BTU or are interested in joining for the first time, you won’t want
to miss this great meeting.
A formal agenda will be announced closer to the meeting date, but topics will include:
An introduction to the Berkeley Tenants Union California Senate Bill 529 (Tenant Right to Organize/Protecting Tenant Voices Advocacy) and forming building associations Information about the Berkeley Rent Board, including what protections and services it offers for tenants in both rent controlled and non-rent controlled in building, as well as your rights as a tenant in general Information about counseling services A question and answer period (e.g. “What happens if my landlord does X?”) How to get more involved with BTU
If you want to help us get the word out to tenants about this important meeting, please email info at berkeleytenants dot org. We are especially looking for volunteers to hand out our flyers and talk to tenants about this meeting. The Berkeley Tenants Union is volunteer led and membership supported. We are only as strong as our members.
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 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.”
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.
Berkeley Tenants Union has three important items at the City Council on Tuesday. For more info, see the posts below this one.
About the Demolition (Item 21): If the City Council allows this demolition to go forward, the law prohibiting unmitigated demolition of rent controlled housing means nothing anymore, and all of Berkeley is at risk of being bulldozed to make way for luxury housing.
About changes to the Rental Housing Safety Program (Item 23): One reason developers give to tear down affordable older units is that they are in really bad shape. Never mind that they continue to rent them out while simultaneously making a claim that they are unsafe. In order to preserve our housing, we must make cyclical inspections a reality in Berkeley as they are in most other major cities.
November 17 will also see the Council discuss a Windfall Profits Tax on High Rents. There will be a special workshop at 5:30 PM in order for the Council to consider a ballot measure to increase the business license tax on larger landlords and use the money to building and rehab affordable housing, including the student co-ops.
What you can do:
1) Take a picture of unsafe housing conditions and email it to City Council marked November 17, Item 23. firstname.lastname@example.org They have to get the email by noon on Tuesday.
2) Come to the Demolition Appeal at old City Hall on November 17 around 8 PM and hold a sign to support BTU and the ASUC during the appeal. We demand that the law which says
“Notwithstanding the above, the Board shall approve a Use Permit to eliminate a controlled rental unit only when it finds that…The replacement dwelling unit shall be available for occupancy to Households for Lower Income or Very Low Income Households” must mean that rent controlled housing can only be torn down if replaced unit-for-unit with permanently affordable housing! Look for us in blue BTU T Shirts to get a sign showing support.
3) Come early to support the Windfall Profits Tax at 5:30 PM
Refusal to repair can be considered harassment in Oakland, but before you get too jealous that Oakland finally got an Anti-Harassment Law – there is a BIG catch: tenants will have to enforce the law by suing landlords – the city has no enforcement mechanism at all. So even though Oakland now defines actions such as repeated bogus eviction attempts, refusal to make repairs, and threats to report renters to immigration as harassment, tenants without the means to hire an attorney might not benefit from the new rules.
Such additional protections against harassment have been discussed often but never developed by our elected leaders. San Francisco, East Palo Alto, Santa Monica and West Hollywood are other Rent Control cities that have similar laws. If Berkeley renters want such protections, they will have to organize like Oakland renters did!
There is also an exemption in Oakland for new construction.
ACTION: Statewide Ellis Reform The Berkeley Rent Board agenda for Monday March 17 contains a report on landlord and tenant bills at the state legislature. BTU is asking the Board to take action to support and broaden the two bills to reform the Ellis Act, a law that allows speculators to buy an apartment building and immediately get rid of all the tenants. We hope the Board will ask Nancy Skinner and Loni Hancock to persuade San Francisco’s Tom Ammiano and Mark Leno to change their bills so they could apply in Berkeley if use of the Ellis act rises dramatically here.
Santa Monica’s Rent Board, and then Santa Monica’s City Council, have taken a similar position, stating that they are hopeful that any Ellis reform will allow all jurisdictions with rent control to be given a chance to opt in. Santa Monica Rent Board Annual Report: “…entering 2013, there are signs that the economy may be improving—foreclosures are down in Californiaalong with unemployment—and there is a sense in the state that our economy may finally be headed in the right direction. Along with that recovery is the likelihood of increased Ellis activity, bringing with it the inevitable loss of accessible, competitive, controlled housing.”
The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board meets Monday at 7 PM — 2134 Martin Luther King. The report on housing legislation and discussion on Ellis reform are early on their agenda.
San Francisco To Raise Ellis Relocation Benefits? “The Campos legislation will pay tenants 2 years’ worth of the “rent differential” between their current rent and the market rent they will have to pay. For example, if a tenants being evicted is paying $1,500 a month in rent and the current market rent for a similar apartment is $3,000, they will received $72,000 in relocation benefits (the $1,500 difference their current rent and the new rent, times 48)”– according to Eviction Free SF. Berkeley’s Ellis relocation benefits are currently between $8,700 and $16,200 per household, San Francisco has a $15,632.69 maximum, and Santa Monica and West Hollywood base their benefits on the size of the unit, with relocation payments of up to $17,000 (West Hollywood) and $19,000 (Santa Monica.)
Student Perspectives on Housing This week was UC Berkeley’s annual Tenants Rights Week, so BTU tabled on campus alongside Renters Legal Assistance and other services. The Daily Californian has their annual housing special issue, with articles discussing gentrification, types of housing in Berkeley, vacancy decontrol and landlord profits, and the role of the Rent Board. http://www.dailycal.org/section/special/housing-issue-2014/
Tuesday Exchange on Berkeley’s Downtown There are 1,400 units of rental housing in development for the Downtown area, and none of it will be rent controlled. Unfortunately, this talk will happen while you are at work. “The Berkeley Historical Society asked LWVBAE to partner with them in an exploration of how development activities may potentially impact the cultural and physical characteristics of the Downtown area. Panelists, including Michael Caplan, Lisa Stephens and Jim Novosel, will open a discussion on this important topic, which will be followed by a question-and-answer period. The talk will be moderated by Steven Finacom and introduced by Sherry Smith.” Conversation about the Downtown Development Plan Tuesday, March 18 :: Noon to 1:30 pm Berkeley History Center, 1931 Center Street Admission free. Donations welcome. Wheelchair accessible.
Oakland City Council To Review Capital Improvement Rent Increases Tuesday “A staff recommendation this week calls for the number of years landlords can amortize capital improvement costs to be extended from 5 years to 20 and caps the rent increase at 10 percent. In addition, landlords would be asked to petition the city for rent increases. Currently, the only way for the city to track rent increases triggered by capital improvement projects is only when renters issue a complaint. Most tenants, however, may be unaware of their rights regarding the complaint system, says Oakland tenants’ rights advocate James Vann”. http://oaklandlocal.com/2014/03/tenants-rights-resolution-heads-to-oakland-city-council-as-talks-continue/
► This week’s fire at the Nash Hotel should remind us that the tenants from the buildings that burned on Telegraph Avenue and Dwight Way in late 2011 are still fighting to get their due. Replacements for both buildings are winding their way through Berkeley’s permit maze, but the City’s rules exempt these buildings from any affordable housing fees UNLESS the landlord was at fault for the damage. Since it was reported that the fire alarms were disconnected at the Lakireddy-owned building on Dwight, and tenants at the Haste-Telegraph Sequoia building have a lawsuit against the owner, fault is still being investigated. The 2227 Dwight property was at the Zoning Board on Thursday June 13, but there has been no press coverage. The Zoning Board granted the owner’s permit.
► The Berkeley Housing Authority took back 14 rental assistance vouchers they had already given to low-income families, and suspended the list of those who can get Section 8 assistance in the future, due to funding cuts from the federal government:
►As reported earlier, Berkeley Property Owners Association President Sid Lakireddy has filed a lawsuit against the four candidates for Rent Board chosen at the Tenant Convention in 2012. Another article on this lawsuit was published recently:
► Although the City Council considered revision to the Demolition Ordinance again on June 11, and the suggestions just keep getting worse for tenants and advocates of affordable housing, there were no news stories on the latest developments. BTU will post again when the Council calendars the next round of debate – it is expected for July 2nd. Several leaders are calling for Council to send the new draft back to the Planning Comission – since the proposal they approved wasn’t so much amended as replaced!! Video of the latest changes can be viewed on the City website – discussion started just after 9:45 PM on June 11.
► There has also been no news on the State of California investigation of fair election law violations by the faux-tenant slate, Tenants United for Fairness. When Berkeley’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission issued the landlord-backed candidates the second-largest election fine in Berkeley history last month, FCPC stated that there is an ongoing investigation at the state level.
This just in – SB603, the great bill to protect security deposits that we’ve been telling you about, has failed in the state Senate. Tell your San Francisco pals that their Senator voted against protections for tenants. SF voters and friends of tenants everywhere should give Leland Yee a call and let him know we will remember his vote: 916-651-4008. http://legiscan.com/CA/bill/SB603/2013
Also in the news, Berkeley Property Owners Association President Sid Lakireddy, whose family is one of Berkeley’s largest landlords, has filed a lawsuit against the four candidates for Rent Board chosen at the Tenant Convention in 2012. Lakireddy, who was a key leader in raising over $40,000 from landlords and property managers to try to defeat the Progressive Affordable Housing Slate, claims he isn’t a public figure. Igor Tregub is fundraising to defend the Slate’s first amendment rights. http://www.berkeleyside.com/2013/05/30/sid-lakireddy-sues-berkeley-rent-board-candidates-for-libel/
The lawsuit references the well known 1999 case against Sid Lakireddy’s uncle, who was convicted of transporting minors for illegal sexual activity and other offenses. In case you are new to Berkeley, you can learn about it on these sites: http://www.wassusa.com/ http://www.dianarussell.com/why_did_chanti_die.html