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.
The 2016 Rent Board Convention to select a pro-tenant slate for the elected Rent Board will be held on April 24th – THIS SUNDAY! – at the South Berkeley Senior Center on Ellis at Ashby. The gathering is sponsored this year by BTU, Friends of Adeline, the Berkeley NAACP, Berkeley Green Party, Berkeley Progressive Alliance, Berkeley Citizens Action, Socialist Alliance, the Peace and Freedom Party, CalSERVE, and UC Berkeley Students for Bernie Sanders.
The convention has been held each election year by a coalition of progressive groups for over 20 years in order to present a unified slate for the November Rent Board election. This year, there are 11 candidates for four seats. Because Rent Board Commissioner is the only elected office in Berkeley with term limits, there are only two protenant incumbents: Asa Dodsworth and Alejandro Soto-Vigil.
Candidate statements are on the convention website. Asa Dodsworth and Marcia Levinson did not send written responses. Sponsoring groups also send representatives to rate the candidates, interview them, and get more information about specific concerns of their membership. The convention site will also host the ratings and comments from community screeners, as well as the rules of the convention.
Asa Dodsworth, Marcia Levenson, Matthew Lewis, Thomas Lord, Christina Murphy, Poki Namkung, Christine Schwartz, Leah Simon-Weisberg, Alejandro Soto-Vigil, Igor Tregub, Eleanor Walden. Dodsworth, Simon-Weisberg, Lewis, and Tregub have served on the BTU steering committee.
BEWARE! You must be inside for all candidate statements in order to vote. Folks not in by 2 PM may not get ballots. Convention starts Sunday at 1:30 PM!
Your Berkeley Tenants Union’s quarterly members meeting will be March 30th. It is open to all members, and you can join BTU at the meeting if you are willing to sign our member pledge. Contact us for more information.
The 2016 Rent Board Convention to select a pro-tenant slate for the elected Rent Board will be held on April 24th, a Sunday, at the South Berkeley Senior Center. Potential candidates should contact the convention, which has been held each election year by a coalition of progressive groups for over 20 years. http://berkeleytenantsconvention.net/
Hot topics at the March 30th meeting (besides the upcoming Tenant Convention) will be proposed ballot measures to increase owner-eviction relocation funds and to fund affordable housing through a windfall profits tax on larger landlords, as well the upcoming Council consideration of an anti-harassment law known as the Tenant Protection Ordinance. Read the BTU March Newsletter
They are Organizing, Are You?
Oakland Ballot Measure to Make Rent Control Real “The measure would extend protections under the Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance to thousands more Oakland rental units, implement the currently un-enforced Tenant Protection Ordinance, and reform the existing Rent Adjustment Program (Oakland’s weak substitute for rent control) to make it much harder for landlords to raise rents above the rate of inflation, place an absolute 5% per year cap on rent increases, cover more rental units under rent control, and ensure a tenant-majority Rent Board, among other improvements.” http://www.oaklandtenantsunion.org/news
Alameda May Be Harassing Tenant Group After filing their ballot measure, Alameda renters were talking outside the clerk’s office when they were approached by police. While that may not seem odd, the same Alameda group found a police officer scrutinizing them at a public meeting the month before.
Richmond Ballot Measure “The Fair and Affordable Richmond Coalition — consisting of elected officials, renters, homeowners and activists — on Tuesday gathered to officially file the petition with the city clerk. The group will have until June to gather 4,198 valid signatures to place the measure on the November ballot. A rent control ordinance was narrowly passed by the City Council in August, but it was repealed in November after a landlord association circulated a petition. Since then, affordable-housing activists have promised to bring the measure to the November ballot. Had the ordinance approved in August been implemented, Richmond would have been the first California city in more than 30 years to pass rent control.” http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_29552957/richmond-group-pushes-bring-rent-control-measure-voters
“Claudia Jimenez, a homeowner in Richmond who is a community organizer with the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), said, “The Richmond City Council passed some renter protections including rent control, and just cause eviction protections that were supposed to go into effect last year to protect Richmond renters. However, the California Apartment Association (CAA) spent a lot of money to hire people who gathered enough signatures for a petition that blocked the renter protections from going into effect.” http://www.thestreetspirit.org/the-struggle-for-renter-protections-in-richmond/
Over on the Other Team
Berkeley Landlord PAC Attempts to Seem Reasonable… “We represent the voice of rental housing providers through our political action committee and legal defense fund. We are here to restore fairness, efficiency and objectivity to Berkeley’s rental housing policies.” http://www.thebrhc.org/
…While the BPOA Continues to Seem Odd “And so welcome to the latest arrival on the local scene, the Berkeley Rental Housing Coalition. It cannot be said to represent we, the people nor does it comprise a Declaration of Independence. It does, however, establish and ordain an organization to address our rightful grievances to the government which shackles rental housing in so many ways. And, to quote another revered figure from American history, ‘it is altogether fitting and proper that we do this.’ ” http://bpoa.org/
Students Can’t Afford Housing at $1,500 per Room “A graduate of Hunter College in New York City, Sliwowski said that the two-bedroom apartment he had rented in the notoriously competitive Manhattan housing market as an undergraduate cost him and his roommates a total of $1600 a month. In Berkeley, after subletting a room in a house for two months that had been rented out on AirBnB, he finally beat out 59 other applicants to pay $1500 a month for a room in a house. “The university is failing to do anything to control rents in Berkeley, and failing to adequately inform students about the cost of housing,” he said.” http://www.dailycal.org/2016/03/04/priced-out-of-house-and-home/
UC Berkeley’s Role in the Housing Emergency “While the student housing crisis is a symptom of a regional problem, the fault also rests with campus administrators, who have failed to create enough housing opportunities for students. UC Berkeley houses fewer students than most other UC campuses, providing only 24.7 percent of undergraduates and 2.6 percent of graduate students with campus housing. Even when the campus creates new student housing, it is often unaffordable for many students. In fact U.S. News and World report ranked UC Berkeley as the fifth most expensive school in the country in terms of campus housing costs.” http://www.dailycal.org/2016/03/08/347468/
What is Affordable Housing?
“Affordable housing is housing that only costs 30 percent of the renter’s income. In Berkeley, however, housing can be considered “affordable” when it costs up to 50 percent — and even 80 percent — of the household’s income. And in the eyes of Sophie Hahn, a member of the city’s Zoning Adjustment Board, this expectation is not at all affordable and reveals the heart of the affordable housing issue in Berkeley.” http://www.dailycal.org/2016/03/04/quick-dirty-guide-affordable-housing/
About the Co-ops “Central to its design is the understanding that in order to receive a quality education, students must have access to affordable housing. This is especially relevant at UC Berkeley, which measures its value by accessibility. UC Berkeley’s former chancellor Robert Birgeneau once said the UC’s “educational excellence is accessible and affordable,” a quality that makes Berkeley a uniquely “vital and diverse intellectual community.” But this is not the reality. Students at UC Berkeley face a brutally expensive housing market, which presents an obvious contradiction: UC Berkeley cannot claim to provide access to excellent education as long as it considers quality of life and quality of education separately.” http://www.dailycal.org/2016/03/10/sharing-berkeleys-housing-burden/
Berkeley City Council may finalize the law making it illegal to smoke in any multi-unit building in Berkeley on Tuesday December 3. Councilman Arreguin is making one more attempt to ensure the new law treats owners and renters equally. His suggestions also include more information to guide new renters, such as a registry of rental units and their smoking history, requiring owners to post signs, and that smokers receive warnings before they are fined.
Arreguin’s proposal – Council Item 28 – includes the radical suggestion that Berkeley actually allocate city staff to enforce the law!
28.Referral to City Manager: Amendments to Tobacco-Free Multi-Unit Housing Ordinance(Continued from November 19, 2013) From: Councilmember Arreguin Recommendation: Refer to the City Manager for incorporation in a draft Tobacco-Free Multi-Unit Housing Ordinance the following proposals: 1. Delay the effective date of the ordinance to May 1, 2014, rather than March 1, 2014 as previously directed by the City Council, so that staff has adequate time to draft amendments based on this referral and bring back a final ordinance for Council adoption. Also delay the requirement that landlords notify tenants effective January 1, 2014. A delayed implementation date would also provide enough time for the city to conduct outreach to owners and tenants of the new requirements and increase smoking cessation resources before the ordinance goes into effect. 2. All initial leases or rental agreements signed on or after May 1, 2014 shall include language expressly prohibiting smoking in the units or in any common areas of a multi-unit residence. 3. That all initial leases or rental agreements signed after May 1, 2014, also notify tenants which units in the building do not have leases which expressly prohibit smoking. 4. Failure to provide either of the lease provisions noted above will allow the new tenant to break the lease without penalty. (the language proposed by the Manager on October 1st along with the modifications proposed by the Rent Board on October 1st suffices). 5. That the City or Rent Board actively encourage and try to get tenants to sign voluntary lease addendums which prohibit smoking. Any voluntary lease addendum should be on a City/Rent Board developed form. 6. That the Rent Board establish and maintain a registry of all rental units in multi-unit housing indicating which units have leases that expressly prohibit smoking & require owners to notify the Rent Stabilization Board of lease provisions prohibiting smoking, and that the city require that owners of units registered with the Rent Board and those that aren’t registered provide information on which units have no-smoking lease clauses. 7. That owners be required to post signs in common areas of all multi-unit housing indicating smoking is prohibited. 8. That the City allocate staff to enforce violations of this ordinance through an initial investigation, written warning and followed by progressively increasing fines of $250, $500, $1000 and $1,500 for each infraction. Consistent with the previous staff drafted ordinance, there should be a cap on the number of private right of actions that any individual resident may file in a year against another smoking resident. 9. Includes the private right of action but strengthen it by allowing each resident to collect no more than $1,000 in a calendar year through private right of action. Doing this allows us to show that we are not tolerating or condoning smoking but believe that real financial penalties (rather than an unequal risk of lost housing) should be an appropriate penalty that can be applied in a more uniform way. Also making a violation the ordinance an infraction does not give an owner automatic grounds to evict a tenant. Also include the mandatory mediation provisions included in the ordinance proposed by the Manager on October 1, 10. Warnings be required by landlords and by the City before any enforcement action can be taken. The City Council should authorize sufficient staff and a funding source for proper enforcement and outreach. Previously, the City Manager indicated such a program would cost in the neighborhood of $120,000 annually to implement. Councilmember Maio indicated that the inspectors associated with the Rental Housing Safety Program be charged with implementing the Ordinance. If the RHSP fee were increased by $5 per unit, there would be sufficient resources to fund the necessary staff to implement the provisions of the Tobacco-Free Multi-Family Housing Ordinance I am proposing. If there needs to be a specific nexus between a no smoking ordinance and the RHSP program, City staff should explore amending the housing code so that smoking is a violation that can be cited and enforced by RHSP Housing code inspectors.
On October 1, City Council rejected the long process between the Rent Board and the Health Commission and decided to draft new antismoking legislation on the fly. Staff has to come back with actual language, but it is very likely that Berkeley will make it legal to evict tenants for smoking cigarettes, even if the lease has allowed smoking for years.
The new laws will also apply to owners who live in multiunit buildings, for example an owner-occupied unit in a building which also has rental units, or a condominium. However, owners can’t be evicted, and tenants can!! The City Council keeps saying they want a law that can be enforced, but this latest plan puts the obligation to enforce the law onto landlords. Who will enforce the law against owners who smoke?
BTU hasn’t taken an official position, in part because the draft that was going to Council last week balanced concerns about protecting housing with the needs of those who are impacted by secondhand smoke. Now one big concern might be that the phase-in period for the law hardly gives long-term addicts the time to successfully quit. Also, landlords are far more likely to enforce the smoking ban against long-term tenants with controlled rents, while not acting to protect other residents from second-hand smoke if the smoker is paying a high price for his or her unit.
If you are concerned one way or the other, contacting Linda Maio would be a good place to start. It sounded like she is very in favor of the new rules to define smoking as a nuisance. Email her: lmaio@CityofBerkeley.info
The Berkeley Tenants Union has no position on the emerging legislation to make cigarette smoking illegal in all multiunit buildings in Berkeley. This hot issue pits neighbor against neighbor, especially since the City Council’s draft only has one enforcement mechanism: take your neighbor to small claims court!
Requests from the Rent Board and other constituents for the city to require mediation have not been included in the rules, which would make smoking in or around their buildings illegal for tenants and condominium owners, even if smoking is allowed in the lease or homeowner’s agreement. Smoking will be prohibited in all new leases.
Possible changes to the current draft of the law which are discussed in the Council report:
More aggressively enforcing the Ordinance
Defining smoking in multi-unit housing as a nuisance to allow evictions
Requiring a registry of units with non-smoking clauses in their leases
Including medical cannabis smoking
The Berkeley City Council will finally vote on the controversial law at their meeting Tuesday, which begins at 7 PM at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way and will be broadcast on the web, cable TV and 89.3 FM. The current draft does include some increased support for smokers trying to quit.
Our elected Rent Board has been under fire from at least one antismoking advocate. The Commissioners expressed concerns that defining smoking as a nuisance would lead to evictions, pushed for mediation to be mandatory before law suits are filed, and also requested that the city enable their department to provide tracking so prospective tenants would know if they are applying for a unit next door to a smoker and/or if smoking happened during the previous tenancy: May 7 Smoke-free Housing Council final