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.
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.
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.
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/
On Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council will consider a request from the Rent Board to place a measure on the November 2016 ballot to update the Rent Ordinance. Because that law was passed by the voters, it can only be changed at the ballot box. This will be Item 48 on the June 14th agenda.
Update: This Will Be On The November Ballot
Summary of the Changes The main request is to revise the amount of assistance tenants receive when they lose their homes to an owner move-in eviction (OMI). Berkeley’s relocation funds have not been updated since 2000. The changes would also expand relocation assistance to all tenants; currently only low-income Berkeley tenants get any recompense at all after such no fault evictions. Berkeley is the only rent controlled jurisdiction in California which restricts help by income. Since rents have gone up over 40% in five years, all tenants need help with moving costs and new security deposits.
The other important change to the Rent Ordinance would be to protect families with children from owner move-in evictions during the school year. An owner could still evict a family, but the family would not have to disrupt their children’s education and could wait until the summer to relocate. San Francisco has had such protections for renter families for many years.
OMI evictions in Berkeley doubled between 2013 and 2014. When Berkeley voters passed “Measure Y” in November 2000, they also voted to have the Rent Board monitor such evictions. Recently, the Rent Board won an important court victory (see https://www.berkeleytenants.org/?p=1386) which upheld the agency’s ability to reset the rent to the previous tenant’s rent-controlled rent when a landlord evicts a tenant but does not actually move in.
The Rent Board reports on owner move-in evictions every six months. The reports show that most owners who evict buy the building and then evict within two years. The reports also show that most “fake” OMIs happen in larger buildings, and that recent OMIs are concentrated west of Sacramento Street. Yet the Rent Board only tracks evictions which follow the law. If tenants leave simply because they are threatened with an OMI, the Rent Board cannot track the eviction or enforce the law. Tenants who accept a buyout also have new protections passed by the City Council a few months ago, but typically waive their rights under the Rent Ordinance for some cash.
Relocation funds would increase to about $15,000 per household. BTU hopes increasing the relocation payment a landlord is required to give might cut down on false evictions.
Read Item 48 here: RSO Changes Ballot Measure Final “The law currently requires landlords who evict for the purpose of moving into the rental unit to pay $4,500 only to tenant households who qualify as low income. Tenants who are evicted for owner move in but do not qualify as low income receive nothing. Berkeley is one of the only major rent control jurisdictions in the state that does not provide relocation assistance to all tenants, regardless of income. Also, the relocation assistance amount set forth in Measure Y has not been adjusted since it was passed almost 16 years ago. The amount of the assistance is nearly four times lower than that required by the cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood – each of which have periodically adjusted relocation payments over the years in response to rising rents, moving costs, and inflation.”