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 California along 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.

Berkeley Rent Board Legislative Report, Item 5

Also on the Agenda, Banks as Landlords, Item 7(a)8 and Wall Street Securitizing Rents 7(a)11

Ellis Reform from the San Francisco Appeal: “Speculators are buying properties and posing as new landlords, then evicting the tenants within a matter of months to “flip” the building and convert it into a high-cost home or luxury condominiums, the senator said.”

Ellis Reform from 48 Hills Blog: “The presence of the mayor and the tech industry is just the latest indication of how serious the eviction crisis has become – and how much of a force the tenant movement has become in local politics. When you get a crowd like this for an anti-eviction bill, it’s clear that 2014 is, indeed, the Year of the Tenant in San Francisco.

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.

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”.

Photo courtesy of Tenants Together.
Photo courtesy of Tenants Together.

Berkeley is one of 14 cities in California that enjoys strong protections for tenants. San Francisco has decent protections, but has seen a huge wave of evictions that use a state law, the Ellis Act, to get around local rules.

Now there is a statewide effort to reform the Ellis Act. The law was intended to allow long-term owners to “go out of the rental business” but instead allows investment companies and other speculators to buy rent controlled buildings, evict all the tenants, and sell the units as condos or tenancies-in-common at huge profits.

Activists from San Diego to Redding are hoping a reformed law might require an owner to hold the building for at least five years before they could “go out of business” – this would eliminate speculators who buy rental properties only to flip them after evictions. However, in 2007 a bill in the California legislature which called for a five-year delay failed miserably. If a broad coalition from many cities – including Berkeley – doesn’t support the current reform, we could end up with a state exemption to the law that will only protect San Francisco.

And you know what they say – “When San Francisco sneezes, Berkeley get a cold!” If SF was able to curb their epidemic of evictions, speculators will quickly turn to Berkeley. This is why the Berkeley Tenants Union wants you to join with us in supporting broad statewide reform of the Ellis Act now!

Our friends at Tenants Together have put together a petition as a first step:

A state law, The Ellis Act, is responsible for the unfair eviction of thousands of seniors and families in California. In the past few years Ellis Act evictions have surged, with thousands of long-term tenants displaced from their homes.

Send the message that we will stand up for our communities against speculation.

San Francisco is taking other steps to end their eviction crisis – Berkeley should also increase Ellis relocation payments, restrict unit mergers, and give evicted residents priority for local affordable housing – join BTU to fight for this today! Right now, the revisions to the Berkeley Demolition Ordinance proposed by Mayor Bates will make it easier to eliminate rent controlled units by merging them to create big houses for the wealthy — the exact opposite of how San Francisco is changing their law!

Hundreds of seniors, families and long-term renters evicted in San Francisco

The Ellis reform bill would allow local governments more say in preventing evictions:

Handful of MoneyWe’ve got some good news about SB603 – the great new law about Security Deposits that we keep telling you about. Thanks to unified support from tenants all over the state, the bill has moved out of committee and into the state Senate.

However, we really need to KEEP UP THE PRESSURE. The California Apartment Association has its members writing letters every day. They say, “With the change to the penalty provisions of the law, more tenants would surely challenge their deposit return. Any degree of victory would mean getting all of a security deposit back, plus penalties and actual damages.” Indeed!


SF Chronicle article:

What the opponents are saying:

Justice?Berkeley’s Rent Board will discuss support for the state bill SB603 which would provide further protections for tenants and their security deposits. All-too-often, landlords don’t return security deposits or follow state laws, such as the rule that they have to let tenants know they can request a pre-move inspection, or the law that landlords must send copies of receipts. SB603 would allow a chance for tenants who have to take owners to small claims court to get damages. And if landlords risk having to pay the tenant MORE than just their deposit, maybe landlords won’t try to keep it for no good reason.

Tell the Rent Board what you think on Monday, or write them here:
If you write the Rent Board, please say you support BTU and make sure you title your email “For the Commissioners re: May 13 Meeting” so it gets to them.

Tenants Together, the statewide group leading the charge on this issue, just published a report about security deposit theft.

The report contains the following findings from a survey of Tenants Together members from across the state:

  • 60% experienced unfair withholding of some or all of their deposit;
  • 53% did not receive any of their deposit funds within 21 days of vacating the last time they moved;
  • 36% reported that their entire deposit was never returned the last time they moved.

The report also analyses of the outcomes of security deposit cases filed by tenants in small claims courts to recover their deposits. The three-courthouse study, the first of its kind in California, found:

  • Tenants prevailed in over 70% of the cases that went to judgment;
  • In only 3.5% of the security deposit cases filed by tenants was a landlord assessed a penalty by the court.

read more here:

state bill: