Winter Update

Affordable Housing Forum January 21
BTU, in conjunction with Berkeley Citizens Action, Progressive Student Association, and CalSERVE, are hosting an event on affordable housing, with guest speakers including Mayor Jesse Arreguin, Councilmember Kate Harrison, and Rent Board Commissioner Leah Simon-Weisberg. Topics include rent control expansions, student housing, and the newly proposed state law, SB827, which would take away more local control over large for-profit housing developments. At the library Sunday the 21st, from 2pm-4pm.
https://www.facebook.com/events/213062839239569/

Counselor Training February 7 and 8th
Our friends at Tenants Together are offering a Tenants Rights Counselor Training. They cover state law, and refer renters with Berkeley-specific problems to us or the Rent Board. Taking their training or volunteering on their hotline is a great first step toward counseling for BTU. Right now, BTU has only one person answering questions from renters. Help us help Berkeley tenants!
Contact Sara (415) 495-8100

BTU on Campus Thursday February 8th
Cal Dems and the Progressive Student Association have invited BTU to discuss housing issues at 8pm. The location on campus is TBD, so check the Facebook event. This meeting is open to both students and non-students.
https://www.facebook.com/events/213062839239569/

Tenants Endorsement Meeting February 11
Meet all nine candidates for the open Assembly race for District 15. Pamela Price, challenger for Alameda County District Attorney, will also be present. While this event is open to all, you must be a member of BTU who has attended at least one other meeting in the past year and have paid dues in order to vote. Sunday February 11, 2 to 6 pm at South Berkeley Senior Center.

2018 Tenant Convention
Planning has begun for largest tenant gathering in Berkeley, the biannual convention to choose a united team to run for Berkeley Rent Board. Contact BTU if you are interested in being a candidate, and follow developments about this year’s meeting on the tcon website:
http://berkeleytenantsconvention.net/

Your Name Here
I moved away from Berkeley but so far no one at BTU has stepped up to manage the website, and no one is really sending me any content. Does someone in Berkeley want to take on this task for BTU?

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Berkeley Housing Policy Update

Measure U1 Debate Continued
The Berkeley City Council carried items about spending Measure U1 money to their July 25 meeting. See Items 48, 50 and 51 on that agenda.
http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/Clerk/City_Council/City_Council__Agenda_Index.aspx

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.

He said the city needs to fight the ravages of gentrification, strengthen defenses against eviction of tenants, work to eliminate the state Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, and do more to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation.”
http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2017/07/11/mayors-address-cites-berkeleys-disparities-role-in-national-politics/

“Arreguín said he is also proud of the $650,000 included in the new city budget for eviction defense and housing subsidies — and of the plan to build affordable and permanent supportive housing, along with more shelter beds and transitional units for veterans, at Berkeley Way. The council voted unanimously to prioritize that ambitious plan in June, though its success depends on securing more funding for the $90 million project.”
http://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/07/11/mayor-jesse-arreguin-pledges-re-earn-berkeleys-progressive-reputation-city-address/

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

Op Ed on Berkeley Development Policies
“It is not true that asking developers to pay higher fees will kill their incentive to build. Just look at all the cranes out there.”
http://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/06/13/opinion-berkeley-needs-new-housing-policy-works-many-not-just/

New York Times on Berkeley Housing Crisis
The New York paper interviewed Mayor Arreguin.
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/15/us/california-today-the-housing-crisis-hits-berkeley.html

Mother Jones Mocks Berkeley Housing Policies
http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2017/06/climate-change-housing-berkeley/

In Other Places 

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.”

The study also shows the environmental impacts of the housing emergency.
”Those who did leave the county saw their one-way commute time increase by an average of 47 minutes and commute cost rise by $390 a month for the main household earner.”
https://almanacnews.com/news/2017/06/22/study-displaced-residents-face-many-other-adverse-effects

 

UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies Displacement Report
http://www.urbandisplacement.org/sites/default/files/images/impacts_of_displacement_in_san_mateo_county.pdf

 

Oakland Wants Berkeley’s Protections
Jonah Strauss of the Oakland Warehouse Coalition said that the referral of the owner move-in exemption to the rent board is a good move. He said Oakland should adopt strong rules like those in Berkeley, and that if a landlord does carry out an owner move-in eviction they should be required to pay a “substantial” amount to help their tenants relocate.”
https://www.eastbayexpress.com/SevenDays/archives/2017/07/11/oakland-looks-to-close-owner-move-in-and-occupancy-loopholes-reduce-evictions-and-harmful-rent-increases

Fremont Wants Rent Control
“The tenants are really in an unleveraged position,” Bonaccorsi said. “They don’t have equal bargaining power. There is a lot of fear, there is a lot of anxiety, there is a lot of stress, there’s a lot of families that have been displaced.”
http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2017/07/12/fremont-isnt-ready-for-rent-control-council-decides/

San Francisco Wants Vacancy Tax
https://sf.curbed.com/2017/7/12/15961486/sf-tax-landlord-homes-apartments-vacant 

Los Angeles Short Term Rentals Debate
https://patch.com/california/studiocity/airbnb-supporters-flood-city-hall-fight-limits-rentals

Airbnb to Collect Taxes for Puerto Rico
https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/california/articles/2017-06-22/airbnb-to-collect-room-tax-in-puerto-rico-for-government

Airbnb Still Fighting Paris 
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-airbnb-hotels-reaction-idUSKBN19R2TT

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Measure U1: Renters Deserve A Share

Measure U1 Allocations To Be Discussed Tuesday July 11

BTU Needs You to Push for Rental Assistance!
The City Council is beginning to discuss how to spend money from the 2016 landlord tax, Measure U1.

You may have seen emails from our allies asking you to comment on Measure U1 funding for particular affordable housing projects, but we want you to remind the Council that a portion of Measure U1 funding is also designated for homelessness prevention. It was always the intention of the authors of the 2016 ballot measure that some money go to reinstate Berkeley’s rental assistance program and boost the number of low-income renters that can defend themselves against Berkeley’s many bogus eviction attempts.

BTU is calling for you to contact the City Council to ask that renters get their fair share from the new tax on high rents generated by Measure U1 – because rent control is Berkeley’s most effective affordable housing program! With about 20% of Berkeley below the poverty level, keeping folks in their rent controlled units is certainly homelessness prevention! The market rent for a new tenant in an older, rent-controlled two bedroom is already $2,600 and “affordable housing units” in developments like The Avalon (by Aquatic Park) rent for $1,445 for a studio – how is that affordable?

Please Email the Council something like this right away!

TO: council@cityofberkeley.info
CC: clerk@cityofberkeley.info
Re: Items 37a and 37b; Items 38a and 38b (July 11)

Rent control is Berkeley’s most effective affordable housing program. BTU calls for more local anti-displacement funding, especially more funding for eviction defense and rental assistance (the “Housing Retention Program.”) Berkeley Tenants Union believes that the portion of funding raised by Measure U1 that should be designated, per the measure, for “homelessness prevention” should be spent on programs which stabilize the housing of low-income renters and thereby preserve economic and social diversity. BTU does not support a delay in committing this funding during a housing emergency. Please prioritize more help for low-income tenants struggling to stay in Berkeley!

 

 

Also on the Agenda: Soft Story Update Item 43
Soft story means buildings that will kill everyone by collapsing in an earthquake. They were required to retrofit and have been told since 2006 that this would be required. They get really cheap city loans, too! But 24 have not complied and – thanks to pressure from BTU and vocal advocates like Igor Tregub – they are now being fined by the Building Department.
This report also provides an update on the status of mandatory seismic retrofits required by Berkeley Municipal Code Chapter 19.39 for buildings with a soft, weak or open front (“Soft Story”) condition and five or more dwelling units. Soft Story building owners had a December 31, 2016 deadline to apply for building permits for seismic retrofits. Of the 86 buildings remaining on the Soft Story inventory, 62 buildings containing 617 dwelling units have now applied for or been issued permits. The Building and Safety Division issued warning letters of administrative citation on March 28, 2017 to owners who had not applied for a building permit and the first citations were issued to ten building owners on May 30.”

 IN OTHER NEWS

Tenant Activist Elisa Cooper
Berkeley has lost another important voice for housing. Elisa Cooper, who took on a major role representing Friends of Adeline on the 2016 Tenant Convention Planning Committee, was also a strong advocate for people with disabilities and those who have the very least in our community. She strongly opposed BTU charging dues and her voice will be missed when that issue comes up again this fall.

Rent Board Election: Campaign Finance Complaint
At the July 20th Fair Campaign Practices Commission (FCPC) meeting, the Commission will hear a complaint registered against the Berkeley Rental Housing Coalition for failing to properly record campaign finances. This is not the first time this has occurred. Because of the blatant repeat offences committed by this organization, the Berkeley Tenants Union feels strongly that in order for the Berkeley Election Reform Act to have any teeth, the maximum penalty should be imposed.
Please support BTU’s letter by emailing: FCPC@CityofBerkeley.info
BTU letter for FCPC

Victory on Affordable Housing Fee
Officials voted Tuesday night, with eight in favor and Councilwoman Lori Droste abstaining, to increase a fee linked to affordable units from $34,000 to $37,000. Council also changed the formula for how the fee is calculated so it’s based on the total project rather than just the market-rate units, as it was previously.”
http://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/06/30/despite-concerns-lack-data-berkeley-council-votes-increase-developer-fee/

Problems Continue at City Council
“The major problem, one which has been the major problem in the approximately forty years since I’ve been watching the Berkeley City Council on and off, is that the only reliable way to get the attention of even the best-intentioned city council is to have as many concerned citizens as possible show up in the flesh to make their case in what’s become one or two minute sound-bytes.”
http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2017-06-16/article/45818?headline=Berkeley-councilmembers-need-to-become-better-listeners–Becky-O-Malley

Solution? Comment Online to Council on Item 25, Berkeley Way Project
Comments about the plan can be posted online by registered users of Berkeley Considers, with or without their name at www.cityofberkeley.info/considers. However, users are asked confidentially for their name and home address upon registration, to distinguish which statements are from local residents, according to a news release from the city.”
http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2017/07/05/input-sought-on-3-million-berkeley-affordable-housing-project-allocation/

Is Berkeley Way Project Too Big?
The two-building project, set to take the place of the public parking lot at Berkeley Way and Henry Street, is slated to include 89 affordable apartments in one building and, in the other, 53 studios of permanent supportive housing, 32 shelter beds, 12 transitional units for veterans, and a first-floor services center with a community kitchen. City leaders have long described the $90 million project, a collaboration with the Berkeley Food & Housing Project (BFHP) and Bridge Housing, as “visionary” in scope.”
http://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/06/15/with-council-all-in-on-berkeley-way-homeless-housing-trust-fund-at-zero/

Another Way to Reach the City Council
Our good friends at Berkeley Citizens Action are holding a town hall with (most of) the progressives we elected this fall! The meeting is Sunday July 16 at 3 PM at South Berkeley Senior Center – go tell them we need more funding for rental assistance and access to just cause eviction protections! Arreguin, Worthington and Davila are all renters!
“Confirmed: Mayor Jesse Arreguín. Councilmembers: Kate Harrison, Kriss Worthington, Ben Bartlett, Sophie Hahn, waiting confirmation from councilmember Cheryl Davila.” according to BCA

Housing Fee: Rent Control and the Housing Crisis
A very serious problem confronting the City Council is the limits of what a city can do since rent control was abolished by the California legislature in 1995. Unquestionably, decontrol mainly accounts for the incredibly high rents. Even if we accept the US Census underestimated count of the poor in Berkeley, which is over 24,000 –that’s too many individuals and families who can be accommodated by the relatively few available below market rate units. A Berkeley City Council member pointed out that the projects which have already been approved will meet only 3 percent of the goal for low income housing.”
http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2017-06-30/article/45843?headline=The-affordable-housing-crisis-how-Berkeley-should-deal-with-it–Harry-Brill-

Housing Fee: Was It Really a Victory?
On the same night of San Francisco’s OMI victory, Berkeley retreated to its failed anti-housing past. The Berkeley City Council ignored the pleas of housing experts such as Karen Chapple of the UC Berkeley Urban Displacement Project, environmental groups such as the Greenbelt Alliance along with ample public testimony and voted 8-0-1 to impose new housing development fees based on 2015 rather than 2017 cost data. Why would the City Council raise fees based on a 2015 feasibility study?  Anyone familiar with rising construction costs since 2015 knows that such data is outdated.”
http://www.beyondchron.org/sf-advances-berkeley-retreats/

Berkeley Rent Control History Rewrite
When the landlords took over the Rent Board, they hired this guy!
http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2017/06/27/my-word-alamedas-just-cause-evictions-law-should-be-quashed/

More About Elisa Cooper
“What I will remember most about Elisa was her stating at numerous council meetings how the property transfer tax had been increased by 0.5% in 1990 for the purpose of providing a steady revenue stream for affordable housing – but then the revenue was diverted to the General Fund during the Great Recession – and never restored.”
http://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/07/05/opinion-elisa-cooper-taught-history-affordable-housing-shortage/

Demolition on Tenth Street Remanded
http://berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2017-06-23/article/45827?headline=SQUEAKY-WHEEL-The-Form-of-Infill–Toni-Mester

BTU History
The Berkeley Tenants Union was the subject of a recent research paper.
http://www.foundsf.org/index.php?title=Berkeley_Tenants_Union_in_the_1970s

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News and Updates

BTU Calls For Landlords to Be Fined for Campaign Violations, Again
On Thursday, May 18, 2017, Berkeley’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission (FCPC) would not decide to enforce the Berkeley Election Reform Act. Commissioner Dean Metzger asked that the staff report include past violations from the same offenders after BTU pointed out their history. In addition, Commissioner Greg Harper asked the city attorney for further information.
The next FCPC meeting will be Thursday, July 20, 2017
BTU LETTER: BTU letter for FCPC

June 13 City Council Votes on Developer Fees
On Tuesday, June 13 the City Council will hold a public hearing to increase the affordable housing mitigation fee from $34,000 ($30,000 if paid when the building permit is issued) to $37,000 ($34,000 if paid when the building permit issue is issued).  The affordable housing mitigation fee is one of the primary ways that the city funds affordable housing, making this increase extremely important.
You can let the city council know that you support the increase by emailing council@cityofberkeley.info and clerk@cityofberkeley.info

Santa Rosa Nears Rent Control Vote
“The largest contribution reported to date to the landlord committee, called “Citizens for Fair and Equitable Housing — No on C,” was $280,000 from the political action committee of the California Association of Realtors. A treasurer for the committee referred questions to the spokesman for the California Apartment Association…”
http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/6793101-181/money-pouring-in-to-fight?artslide=0

The Democratic Party Supports Rent Control
The California Democratic Party supports rent control and just cause for eviction. This is a big deal. Many California Democratic lawmakers are in the pocket of the real estate industry, just like Republicans. They regularly vote against tenants to make sure they continue getting landlord and realtor money. Just recently, only 24 of 80 legislators voted for Assemblymember Rob Bonta’s bill to stop Ellis Act evictions of SRO hotel units in Oakland. If you are scratching your head as to how a narrow bill to stop evictions of some of the most vulnerable tenants in Oakland could lose by a landslide in the California Assembly where Democrats have a two-thirds majority, you obviously haven’t been in the halls of the Capitol recently….”
http://48hills.org/2017/05/23/historic-vote-democratic-party-supports-rent-control/

Owner Move In Evictions in Local Spotlight
It is known that some landlords pretend it’s an owner move-in situation simply to evict lower-rent tenants, and then re-rent units for higher rents. Investors buying duplexes, or other small properties with only a few units, with the intention either to hold on to them or flip them, may tell long-term tenants they plan to move in, just to try to get them to move without going through a legal eviction process.”
http://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/05/25/berkeley-sees-increase-owner-move-evictions-landlords/

Congratulations Maria!
I am thrilled that Maria is taking over my seat on the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board!
“Poblet served many years as executive director at St. Peter’s Housing Committee in San Francisco and then spearheaded a merger with Just Cause Oakland in 2010 to form Causa Justa. The new group brought together one organization that had spent 25 years organizing Latinos with one that had spent 10 years organizing Blacks to push for economic and racial justice. Causa Justa is now the largest tenants’ rights group in the Bay Area. Poblet served as the organization’s executive director from 2010 until early 2017.”
http://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/05/16/prominent-tenants-rights-activist-appointed-berkeley-rent-board/

Councilperson Hahn Calls For Modifications to New Tenant Protections
http://www.dailycal.org/2017/05/31/owner-move-evictions-berkeley-rise-raising-concerns/

New Study Uses Small Sample, Ignores Rent Board Data
http://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/06/01/study-berkeley-8th-highest-rent-bay-area/

Inaccurate Report on High Rents Still Cause For Alarm
http://www.dailycal.org/2017/06/04/berkeley-rated-8th-highest-rent-bay-area/

These Were Sent By Members and Friends:

State Bill on Inclusionary Housing
http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/Clerk/City_Council/2017/05_May/Documents/2017-05-30_Item_30_Support_AB_1505.aspx

Awesome Overview of Berkeley Protections
https://www.mynd.co/landlord-journal/property-owners-cheat-sheet-berkeley

Rent Control is Neighborhood Stabilization
http://haasinstitute.berkeley.edu/rent-control-key-neighborhood-stabilization

San Jose Wants Rent Control
https://caanet.org/app/uploads/2016/08/San-Jose-Rent-Control-Guide_Interim-Ordinance.pdf

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Summer Member Potluck

Quarterly Member Gathering

Tuesday June 6th

6:30* PM

Not a member?

Email us to learn how to join at the meeting.

(*Tenant Counseling at 6 PM)

Posted in Issues

Help! I Need Somebody.

Want to know more about your tenants rights in general?
The Rent Board made a video that is a good place to start:
http://www.cityofberkeley.info/Rent_Stabilization_Board/Home/Videos.aspx

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.

Rent Board Database: http://www.cityofberkeley.info/RentBoardUnitSearch.aspx

The Rent Board offers 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.

Need repairs? Ask in writing! Rent Board can lower rent; code enforcement can issue citations.

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.

See our Resources Page for other assistance!

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Tenants Meeting Sunday

Berkeley Tenants Union joins with Friends of Adeline on Sunday to organize South Berkeley renters for a meeting about common problems like repairs.

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April News and Updates

Berkeley Tenant Deaths Unexplained
“But three months, one lawsuit and a procession of experts later, the source of the carbon monoxide remains a mystery. Toxicology professionals say that’s not just bizarre, but a possible danger to public health. With the question of origin unanswered, the city has red-tagged the apartment where they died but allowed tenants to stay in the building’s other three units…. In the Deakin Street unit, according to neighbors and authorities, a detector was located only on the ground floor, but not upstairs where the couple slept.”
http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Berkeley-couple-s-mysterious-deaths-raise-11077092.php

Deaths Preventable, Says Lawsuit
http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2017/04/18/berkeley-landlords-sued-over-deaths-by-carbon-monoxide-poisoning/

 Still Collecting Rent Next Door to Unexplained Deaths
“Experts are calling the case “rare and odd,” noting it’s typically easy to pinpoint the origin of carbon monoxide in a case like this, and they add that the lack of answers is potentially a public health concern. Neighbors agree—though the unit where the Morashes lived has been red-tagged, the other three units in the building have been deemed safe…”
http://www.newser.com/story/241431/deaths-of-couple-and-their-cats-baffle-cops-worry-neighbors.html

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS!
Since 2013 all rental units with gas heat, appliances or garages have been required to have carbon monoxide detectors.
Check your smoke and CO detectors today!
STAY SAFE!

Bedbugs on University Avenue
Gadson alleged that although Raj Properties promised to exterminate the bedbugs by January, his room was not sprayed by RidX Pest Control until Feb. 17.”
http://www.dailycal.org/2017/04/11/uc-berkeley-extension-alumnus-allegedly-living-bedbug-infested-building-owned-raj-properties/

Raj Properties map, rent, and photo

Room $1000 – Bedbugs Free

State Costa Hawkins Law Changes Delayed by Politics
Former candidate for City Council Sean Barry wrote this anti-rent control article last week. Isn’t it a good thing Kriss Worthington kept his seat? In the article, Barry cites “research” from sources like Michael St. John, who works for Berkeley’s largest property owners! He also seems to think the Rent Board could change what is covered by Berkeley rent control – really, only the voters can do that, and we hope someday they will!
http://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/04/13/opinion-costa-hawkins-repeal-shelved-lets-find-ways-lower-housing-costs/

San Jose Renters on Hunger Strike
“Hernandez and two other renters’ rights advocates decided to go without food until the City Council meeting on Tuesday, when an item will be heard that would implement “just cause” provisions. Currently, landlords can kick a tenant out of their unit without giving any reason.”
http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/04/15/san-jose-renter-advocates-on-hunger-strike-until-vote/

 

 

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Airbnb Threatens Lawsuit, City Council Backs Down Fast

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

1431 Allston -Multiple Rooms under different “Hosts”

 

Details About Each Step of the SF Case:
http://ia601908.us.archive.org/8/items/gov.uscourts.cand.300367/gov.uscourts.cand.300367.docket.html

Airbnb Pulls 900 Illegal SF Listings
http://www.sfweekly.com/news/airbnb-ousts-nearly-1000-sf-home-listings/

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

Santa Monica Responds by Making Law Tougher
The City Council voted 4-0 to require all “home sharing” hosts to not only register with the City but have their information published on a special registry compiled by the City. Officials said it is not unusual for businesses to opt out of such lists, but that eliminating the choice in this case will make it easier for the City to catch hosts who are operating without having registered.”
http://www.surfsantamonica.com/ssm_site/the_lookout/news/News-2017/January-2017/01_12_2017_Santa_Monica_Gets_Even_Tougher_on_Short_Term_Vacation_Rental_Hosts.html

Details on Santa Monica Lawsuit
http://strfacts.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Airbnb-Santa-Monica-Complaint.pdf

More About the Law Airbnb Invoked
In Airbnb’s case, the short-term rental giant is arguing that although some people might be breaking the law by listing property on Airbnb without first registering with the city, Airbnb isn’t responsible — and can’t be held accountable — for what people decide to list on its platform.”
http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-airbnb-free-speech-20160629-snap-story.html

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

Santa Monica Wins Another Case
The city accused Globe of hiding its activities from investigators through subterfuge, which according to news reports included creating phony Airbnb profiles for owners. Globe is appealing.”
https://www.courthousenews.com/class-home-sharers-can-sue-santa-monica/

 AirBnB Drops Lawsuit Against New York
“Airbnb on Friday agreed that it would drop the suit as long as New York City enforces the new law only against hosts and does not fine Airbnb. The settlement takes effect on Monday.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/03/technology/airbnb-ends-fight-with-new-york-city-over-fines.html?_r=0

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.

Property Manager Sues AirBnB
“It is not acceptable to us that Airbnb actively promotes and profits from deliberate breaches of our leases, and does so in utter disregard of the disrespectful and unsafe situations created for our full-time residents and their families,” Aimco CEO Terry Considine said in a statement.”
https://techcrunch.com/2017/02/18/a-big-apartment-management-company-is-suing-airbnb/

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Action: Repeal Costa Hawkins

Repealing Costa Hawkins would solve a lot of problems for Berkeley.

This state law gives landlords the right to jack the rent upon vacancy, bans local laws to regulate rents on any post-1996 construction, and exempts single-family homes and condos from rent control too. To get the state to repeal Costa Hawkins is the first step to making rent control cover all rentals and work for all renters.

California Assembly Members Bloom (Santa Monica), Chiu (San Francisco), and Bonta (Oakland) introduced AB 1506 in February – the bill as currently written would repeal the 1996 Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act.

The Berkeley Rent Board voted to support this bill in March; City Council votes tonight.

To repeal Costa-Hawkins would also mean Berkeley can have the kind of rent control Berkeley voters wanted: the rent would not go up astronomically when a new tenant moves in. This means landlords have less motive for bogus evictions, tenants can afford to move as their lifestyle changes, and speculators are discouraged from using housing as a short-term investment.

Berkeley Tenants Union leaders considered postponing any support for the bill because too many changes could happen before the state legislature actually votes – two years from now! But upon advice from Tenants Together (we are a member organization of this statewide group) and because we saw a “Red Alert” to members of the mega-landlord group BPOA, we are asking that you TAKE ACTION!

Right now, AB1506 is at the Committee on Housing and Community Development.
No hearing date has been set.

1) Ask the sponsor Bloom to pledge not to amend AB 1506 by calling (916) 319-2050. Say you ask that Costa Hawkins be repealed, not amended.

2) Use this form to write our state reps:
http://tenantstogether.org/campaigns/repeal-costa-hawkins-rental-housing-act

3) Post a link to this BTU post on Social Media and ask friends in Santa Monica to also telephone Bloom.

City Council May Support AB1506 April 4
http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/Clerk/City_Council/2017/04_Apr/Documents/2017-04-04_Item_09__Support_of_AB_1506__Repeal_of_Costa-Hawkins.aspx

More on Costa Hawkins
Berkeley Property Owners debate Rent Board Staff on KALW
http://kalw.org/post/debating-costa-hawkins-should-we-strengthen-or-shrink-rent-control-laws#stream/0

History Lesson: How Costa Changed Berkeley
http://www.tenant.net/Other_Areas/Calif/berkeley/ca-leg/ab1164.html

The Law Itself Is Really Hard to Read
http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=9516

Track Changes to This Bare Bones Bill Here:
http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billCompareClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180AB1506

REMINDER: CONTACT ASSEMBLY MEMBER BLOOM TODAY!

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