Berkeley Mayor Advised Big Landlords to Form PAC

A special edition of the Berkeley Property Owners Association newsletter came out in early July, announcing their plans to spend at least half a million dollars each year to fund the Berkeley Rental Housing Coalition. Their announcement begins:
“Since the beginning of permanent rent control thirty-five years ago, knowledgeable people have often suggested that Berkeley property owners should establish a legal defense fund and /or a political action committee.”

Apparently, our Mayor, Tom Bates, is one of those people!

In his speech, Bates also called for an end to the elected Rent Board in Berkeley. In recent press articles, the landlords have said the Board is “answerable to no one” – BTU thinks the Board is answerable to the voters, since they are elected.

From the Contra Costa Times: “Introduced by BPOA President Sid Lakireddy as a friend and supporter of the organization, Bates talks about his early days as a real estate salesman, manager and developer, observing wistfully that a former partner later became a billionaire… He touts the Downtown Area Plan; mocks the sponsors of a move to modify it last year; proposes a downtown office building to entice startup companies to stay in Berkeley; and suggests it might be time to bring the Rent Stabilization Board and the Berkeley Housing Authority under direct city control.
Late in the video, Bates sounds a warning: “You need to organize yourselves,” he says. “You need to think about the possibility of forming a PAC … because you’re going to be under attack.”
http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_28426339/fremont-chastised-destroying-emails-berkeley-mayor-tom-bates

Landlords Plan to Sue Rent Board
“It depends on the money they have. They can run candidates,” UC Berkeley assistant adjunct professor public policy Larry Rosenthal said about the new coalition’s potential influence. “A group of landlords that are organized well will have substantial influence.”
http://www.dailycal.org/2015/06/25/berkeley-landlord-coalition-raises-money-to-seek-greater-political-influence/

People Power Can Beat Money Every Time!
Get Involved! Come to the Potluck July 8th!

Berkeley Still Has It Better
“…In Oakland, when a landlord unlawfully raises rents throughout an entire building, the burden falls to each tenant to write a formal petition and present his or her case in a hearing. As a result, many 1565 Madison residents — who chose not to file petitions or missed a hearing, in some cases because they didn’t have the resources to complete paperwork or because they feared retaliation — have to pay the entire rent increase, even though the city deemed a portion of it illegal.”
http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/how-oakland-landlords-prevail-in-rent-disputes/Content?oid=4345386

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BTU Members Meeting

IMG_shirtBerkeley Tenants Union will hold our quarterly member potluck on Wednesday July 8th. There will be free tenant counseling from 6:30 to 7:30 PM, updates on demolitions and short term rentals regulations, and a roundtable discussion about enforcement of safety and habitability concerns for tenants.

Demolition Decision Sets Bad Precedents

Learn more about what happened at the Zoning Board at our quarterly member potluck on July 8th.

ZAB Grants Demolition…
“Some speakers at the meeting were concerned that the owner of the building deliberately worsened its condition in order to get approval for its demolition. John Selawsky, a substitute for Sophie Hahn and the only ZAB member to vote no on the use permit, said the building showed signs of deliberate neglect. Cliff Orloff, managing partner of developer OPHCA LLC, agreed to let the Berkeley Fire Department conduct training exercises in the building in 2014.”
http://www.dailycal.org/2015/06/26/zoning-adjustments-board-approves-student-housing-complex-on-durant-avenue/

Despite Strong Public Protest
“Earlier this week, in an email regarding the project, a UC Berkeley student who said she used to live at 2631 Durant said tenants had been required by the owner to move out by a certain date, and that conditions had been poor.“When I was signing my lease I was told that I was signing under the condition that I would move out on May 31, 2014. We were told that the building was going to be torn down and developed,” wrote Nicole Yeghiazarian.
“The building was kept in awful shape because they did not want us to stay. When I moved into my apartment, there was mold. The kitchen was filthy with food stains around the stove.… Other tenants I talked to had similar complaints of conditions inside and outside of their units being dilapidated. It really felt like they were doing the bare minimum to not be sued, but wanted to make our conditions unpleasant enough that we would move out.” Added local resident Tree Fitzpatrick, in an email to the zoning board, “To grant this project as requested is to condone demolition by neglect.”
http://www.berkeleyside.com/2015/06/25/berkeley-zoning-board-to-consider-demolition-on-durant/

Short Term Rentals

We have heard that legal service providers like the East Bay Community Law Center are seeing more attempted evictions for renters who sublet for the short term on services like Airbnb. Currently, the Berkeley proposal to legalize such rentals may allow renters to sublet this way as long as the place is their home. But that doesn’t mean doing so won’t be a violation of their lease – it depends on the agreement. Renters should read the fine print, and remember the Rent Ordinance prohibits charging more than a prorated portion of the controlled rent.
Below is the document some folks currently violating Berkeley’s ban on such rentals are presenting to the Planning Commission, who will hold a hearing soon regarding the potential new laws and taxes in Berkeley.
We have just a few corrections: Regulations are not “being passed” – the current prohibition is being lifted for some users. Therefore, the number of short term rentals will not be “cut,” and no law-abiding citizens will see their “livelihood” impacted. These new regulations will not reduce any legal income, they will only legalize a currently illegal activity for some but not all users. It’s like saying the pot dealer on the corner is going to be put out of business by the legalization of medical marijuana!
2015-07-01_Communications_Berkeley Home Sharers_Recommendation on Revisions

Landlords Favor Allowing Hotels Anywhere, Unless Run By A Renter
Sid Lakireddy, president of the Berkeley Property Owners Association, said he doesn’t think the use of Airbnb among tenants is widespread. Lakireddy believes that property owners should be allowed to use Airbnb, but not tenants.
“It’s a lot of work for a property owner to do Airbnb, and if they feel like they can make more doing it, I don’t think we should stop them,” he said. “If a tenant is doing it, that’s wrong because they’re using somebody else’s property to make a profit.”
http://www.dailycal.org/2015/06/21/city-considers-lifting-restrictions-on-short-term-rentals-while-practice-abounds/

Council Passes Referral Designed to Protect Rental Housing Stock
“The proposal, introduced by Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmember Lori Droste, would legalize rentals not exceeding 14 consecutive days and would tax hosts in the same way as hotels. Under the proposed regulations, the property must be occupied by the owner or tenant for at least nine months of the year and can be rented out no more than 90 days if the host is not present.”
http://www.dailycal.org/2015/06/25/city-council-refers-short-term-rentals-proposal-planning-housing-advisory-commissions/

San Francisco Hires 6 to Crack Down on Illegal Hotels
http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/morning_call/2015/07/san-francisco-airbnb-law-enforcement-office-hosts.html

Paris Neighborhood Had More Airbnb Guests Than Actual Residents
During summer 2014, 66,320 people stayed on Airbnb in the neighborhood’s two arrondissements, slightly more than the 64,795 who actually live in them, according to 2012 figures. The popularity of tourist rentals also made it a target of French housing inspectors. In May, inspectors made surprise early-morning inspections that turned up roughly 100 potentially illegal apartments.”
http://graphics.wsj.com/how-airbnb-is-taking-over-paris/

Balcony Collapse Highlights Problems with Code Enforcement

Code enforcement complaints and missing inspection forms at Library Gardens highlight the need to revamp Berkeley’s Rental Housing Safety Program. Currently, the program is a little meaningless. Landlords have to pay a fee and do inspections each year, but they don’t have to turn in the forms to the City. Issues about inspections and habitability will be the topic of a BTU member roundtable at our quarterly meeting on July 8th.

Missing Inspection Forms at Library Gardens
Prior to July 1st, city officials say Greystar provided the wrong inspection records, failing to use the form required by the city. In a letter to Greystar, the city noted that the self-inspections were also missing required signatures and dates.”
http://wn.ktvu.com/story/29458314/2-investigates-missing-incomplete-safety-inspections-after-berkeley-balcony-collapse

Mayor Says New Housing Is Safe
“Berkeley code enforcement inspectors might not have been previously aware of Library Gardens’ failure to perform safety inspections. Those records are not required to be filed with the city unless a code inspector asks for them. Bates said it was unreasonable to mandate increased city inspection of rentals, given the city’s budget, but believed newer apartment buildings are not apt to present many hazards”.
http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-balcony-inspection-report-20150629-story.html

Balcony Collapse Spotlights Dry Rot
Yes, but when will they realize we need to inspect more than just balconies?
“In Berkeley, officials recognized this gap in oversight and a week after the balcony disaster called for a mandate on building owners to inspect balcony supports at least once every five years. State officials are considering whether the balcony collapse demands a broader fix.”
http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-balcony-dry-rot-20150626-story.html

Criminal Investigation
“As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, the investigation will likely focus on Segue Construction Inc. — the company responsible for constructing the building — and on R. Brothers Inc., the company responsible for waterproofing the balcony’s wooden support beams. Several lawsuits throughout the Bay Area involving allegations of water penetration due to faulty waterproofing have been filed against Segue in the past.”
http://www.dailycal.org/2015/06/25/alameda-county-lead-criminal-investigation-berkeley-balcony-collapse/

From Other BTU Members:

Supreme Court on Fair Housing
From a BTU Member: I think that the Court’s decision on the Fair Housing Act is more important, insofar as it established the “disparate treatment” standard.  This is a significant victory for tenants and housing rights advocates.  It will now be much harder to defend discrimination and segregation in housing and other areas on the basis that it was not intentional.
http://feminist.org/blog/index.php/2015/06/25/the-supreme-court-fair-housing-ruling-is-a-civil-rights-victory/

And In Other News:

Demolitions, Ellis Act Plague Los Angeles Renters
http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-0609-gross-housing-ellis-act-20150609-story.html

Cal Student Plagued by Pests
http://www.dailycal.org/2015/06/10/off-the-beat-on-renting-and-raccoons/

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Zoning Board to discuss demolition of large, rent-controlled building Thursday June 25

This 18-unit OCCUPIED building on Durant has applied for a demolition permit.

This 18-unit building on Durant has applied for a demolition permit.

The proposed demolition at 2631 Durant includes 18 rent controlled units which have traditionally been 100% occupied by students and were occupied until May 2014. This is the building next door to the Art Museum and across from the dorms near College on Durant.

One of the most sensational aspects of this application is that developer Cliff Orloff claims he cannot get a fair rate of return because of the costs if he rehabilitates the existing building – but Orloff invited the Berkeley Fire Department to conduct trainings in his building, and when they were done there were holes in the roof and very few interior walls, according to a Building Inspector report that is part of the City record.

The other extremely disturbing aspect of tonight’s hearing is public perception that the process may have been manipulated:

1) City packed the Zoning agenda with two controversial issues – demolition of 2631 Durant and the EIR for 2211 Harold Way, the first downtown high-rise. This will limit discussion time for both projects.

2) City scheduled a different public meeting at virtually the same time on another aspect of Harold Way. Many BTU members want to speak at both meetings but cannot endure 4 or more hours of meetings just to have their one or two minutes to comment at each.

3) CITY STAFF SENT AT LEAST ONE LETTER FROM A CONCERNED CITIZEN TO THE DEVELOPER well before this correspondence was available to the public or even to ZAB Commissioners. (see Supplemental Communications Page 5) Having communications before the rest of the public seems to give the developer more time to refute or refine arguments than the time any other member of the public would have to comment on correspondence.

4) This building was 100% student occupied but the hearing is scheduled when students are away – see the letter from ASUC External Affairs linked below.

BTU is asking folks to come tonight, hold signs, and speak against demolition of rent controlled units as well as in favor of increased affordable housing requirements from downtown high-rise builders.

BTU Letter to ZAB About Durant

ASUCMariumZABCommunication

Communication from the Public Forwarded to Developer, Page 5
http://cityofberkeley.info/uploadedFiles/Planning_and_Development/Level_3_-_ZAB/2015-06-25_ZAB_Supplemental%20Item_Rd1_2631%20Durant.pdf

Link to All City Documents Regarding this Application:
http://cityofberkeley.info/Planning_and_Development/Zoning_Adjustment_Board/2631_Durant.aspx

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Landlords Pledge Half a Million Each Year to Fight Berkeley Rent Board

St. John
Leaders of the Berkeley Property Owners Association – including owners of Premium Properties, Shaw Properties, Everest, real estate agent Jon Vicars, legal advocate Michael St. John, and the notorious Lakireddy family – have formed a new political coalition. Is their primary purpose to run candidates for the Rent Board? No. Is it to bring lawsuits like the 2012 libel cases, to scare tenants away from running for election? No. We fully expect them to do those things as well, but the Berkeley Rental Housing Coalition is landlords pooling their money mostly to sue the Rent Board over a $19 increase in the registration fee. It was the first increase of the fee, which funds the Rent Board agency, in six years.

“…She was more concerned that lawsuits funded with PAC money could divert the board from its mission. ‘I think (the landlord’s) interest may be more in the board spending time and money to defend it, thus taking away from our core services.’ ”
http://www.insidebayarea.com/breaking-news/ci_28332932/berkeley-landlords-plan-coalition-challenge-rent-board

CA Supreme Court Upholds San Jose Requirements for Developers – But Inclusionary Housing Ordinance Will Not Apply To Rentals!

The state Supreme Court upheld the right of a city to impose affordable housing requirements on developers of for-sale housing, but let stand the 2009 Palmer decision, which said cities cannot limit the rent a developer can charge for newly built rental units because of the state Costa-Hawkins law. The decision also made it clear that a nexus study is not required because cities do not have to prove that the demand for affordable housing was created by the development of new buildings.

The ruling will impact over 170 local governments with similar inclusionary housing requirements and allow Berkeley to move forward with inclusionary laws. It’s good news for anyone who might scrape it together to buy some “affordable” housing, but bad news for folks who are pretty sure they will be renters for the rest of their lives. The decision again shows the need for tenants to come together statewide to change the Costa-Hawkins law.

“The Court noted that many land use regulations result in a reduction in the market value that a property may command in the absence of regulations and this does not constitute a taking of the diminished value of the property. In this regard, the Court reasoned that the affordable housing requirement was no different than limitations on density, unit size, number of bedrooms, required set-backs, or building heights.”
http://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/california-supreme-court-upholds-88596/

California Building Industry Association v. San Jose Decision
California-Building-Industry-Assoc_-v_-City-of-San-Jos (PDF)

Berkeley Student Paper Discusses Inclusionary Case
www.dailycal.org/2015/06/16/california-supreme-court-ruling-sets-precedent-for-inclusionary-housing-in-state/

For More Info on Costa-Hawkins:
“The Costa-Hawkins Act is not only contributing to soaring rent prices, but it’s also creating barriers to new housing construction.”
http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/its-time-to-overturn-the-state-ban-on-rent-control/Content?oid=4229744

Another Tenant Screwed By Costa-Hawkins
http://crowandrose.com/2013/12/another-tenant-screwed-by-costa-hawkins/

Berkeley Tenants send huge hugs to the families of all the young people lost or hurt at Library Gardens.

Faulty Construction Likely Cause of Balcony Collapse
“The horrible structural failure of a 5th floor balcony that killed six and injured seven…has brought to the forefront the issue of safety in the frantic construction of apartment buildings mushrooming the city.”
http://dissidentvoice.org/2015/06/berkeley-structural-tragedy/

Deadly Balcony Collapse Tied to Rotted Wooden Beams
http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/06/17/collapsed-berkeley-balcony-reportedly-not-intended-for-large-group/

A History Of Housing Safety Complaints
“The apartment complex’s housing code violations included holes in walls, trip hazards from damaged floors, loose metal strips in doorways, inoperable ceiling fans in laundry rooms and missing or inoperable exit signs throughout the building. The majority of violations were found during a random September 2013 city inspection of several low-income and affordable housing units in the complex.”
http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-berkeley-code-violations-20150619-story.html

Berkeleyside Report On Builder Track Record
“As it turns out, however, there was also a $3.5 million settlement in 2013 in Millbrae related to waterproofing and wood rot. And, that same year, Trestle Glen Associates, in Colma, filed a breach of contract lawsuit, still underway, against Segue related to ‘water intrusion causing tangible property damage.’ ”
http://www.berkeleyside.com/2015/06/17/firm-that-built-berkeley-complex-has-been-fined-sued/

Builder Under Scrutiny BEFORE Balcony Collapse
“The building has been the subject of numerous complaints, both through the city and online. The most recent official complaint, submitted in February to the Berkeley Rent Board, listed missing or broken stairwell lights, missing handrails on stairwells, holes in the walls of public spaces, expired fire extinguishers, and peeling floor material that posed a tripping hazard.”
http://www.berkeleyside.com/2015/06/17/berkeley-building-under-scrutiny-before-balcony-collapse/

Protest Calls For Investigation, Halt for New Construction
A group of concerned citizens has called for a moratorium on new building construction in Berkeley until the tragedy at Library Gardens can be analyzed. The Berkeley Daily Planet posted an editorial with a similar suggestion.

Protesters’ Letter to Council Linked Here
http://www.berkeleyside.com/2015/06/19/protesters-demand-a-halt-on-new-construction-in-berkeley/

Daily Planet Suggests Pause for Building Approvals
http://berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2015-06-12/article/43421?headline=Ask-Council-to-Analyse-Problems-Before-Scheduling-New-Construction–

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Upcoming and Updates

IMG_0926-1Landlords Form PAC
The Berkeley Property Owners Association announced this week that they are forming a political action committee. “While the Rent Board uses our money to undermine our rights, the BRHC will use its funds to fight for our rights, bringing balance to matters that have been far out of balance for far too long.” The founding landlords pledge to spend at least $500,000 a year to fight against renters rights in Berkeley.
http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2015-06-12/article/43384?headline=Berkeley-Landlords-Form-Political-Action-Committee-to-Raise-Half-Million-per-Year–

Short-Term Rentals (AirBnB) Discussion Continues June 23
http://www.mercurynews.com/my-town/ci_28289073/berkeley-discussion-short-term-rental-regulations-stalls-city

http://www.berkeleyside.com/2015/06/11/berkeley-council-meeting-ends-abruptly-during-testimony/

Students Call for Tight Limits on Vacation Rentals
“Research has shown that short-term and vacation rentals increase the costs of housing by reducing the supply of affordable housing available on the market…. If City Council decides to legalize short-term and vacation rentals, such as those found on Airbnb, then it must adequately regulate them in order to protect the city’s supply of affordable housing. The proposal put forward by Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmember Lori Droste, while a good start, would fail to adequately regulate short-term and vacation rentals so that they do not reduce the supply of affordable housing in Berkeley.”
http://www.dailycal.org/2015/06/08/protect-housing-costs-increase-regulation-of-short-term-rentals/

Pro-Development, Pro-AirBnb “Renters” Group Gets YELP Donation.
“I believe Sonja represents a massive segment of the population that’s been largely ignored in the discussion on Bay Area housing – renters,” said Stoppelman.”
http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/blog/real-estate/2015/03/pro-density-sfbarf-yelp-jeremy-stoppelman.html

Upcoming Dates:

Wednesday July 8 – BTU Member’s Meeting and Summer Potluck

CITY COUNCIL
Tuesday June 23, 7 PM – Short Term Rentals continues
Thursday June 25 5 PM – Community Benefits from Downtown High-rise Buildings
Tuesday June 30
Tuesday July 14
Tuesday September 15

ZONING BOARD
Thursday 6/11 at 7:00 PM
Thursday 6/25 at 7:00 PM – Demolition of 18-Unit Rent Controlled Building
Thursday 7/09 at 7:00 PM
Thursday 7/23 at 7:00 PM
Thursday 8/27 at 7:00 PM

PLANNING COMMISSION
Wednesday June 17
Wednesday July 1
Wednesday July 15 – possibly Short Term Rentals
Wednesday September 2

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Action Tuesday!

Short-term rentals are more lucrative than permanent housing. Image courtesy of http://www.beyondchron.org

Short-term rentals are more lucrative than permanent housing. Image courtesy of http://www.beyondchron.org

Berkeley City Council Continues Discussion of Short Term Rentals Tuesday June 9th
7 PM @ Longfellow Middle School Auditorium, 1500 Derby

  • Please join BTU in supporting Councilmember Arreguin’s amendments to the Mayor’s proposal.
  • Ask that Council does not lift the ban on renting whole, empty units on Airbnb and other vacation platforms.
  • Say that we need rent controlled units and other empty apartments to be offered for Berkeley residents.
  • Ask the law be written so that it can be easily enforced!
  • Ask them to include the Rent Board in the referral so that the new law is in harmony with existing state and local laws on rental units.

Revised Council Item 32: 2015-06-09 Item 32 Short-Term Rental

Berkeleyside: Short Term Rentals
“The conversion of apartments into a short-term rentals, where guests come and go, is part of a trend that is sweeping Berkeley. While renting out apartments to anyone for less than 14 days is prohibited under Berkeley law, hundreds of homeowners are renting out rooms, suites, whole houses, cottages — even a tent and a yurt — according to listings posted on Airbnb, VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner), Home Away and other short-term rental websites… Property owners who rent out for short terms often stand to make a substantial amount of money, certainly more than if they rented month to month.”
http://www.berkeleyside.com/2015/05/26/short-term-rentals-are-squeezing-out-berkeley-renters/

Berkeley Tenants Union Public Comment
http://berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2015-06-05/article/43372?headline=The-Problem-with-Short-Term-Rentals-Perspective-of-Berkeley-Tenants-Union

State Won’t Force Airbnb to Share Information for Enforcement
Legislation aimed at forcing Airbnb Inc. and other short-term rental sites to ensure collection of local taxes stalled in the state Senate on Thursday.
SB 593 would have required short-term housing platforms to report quarterly to cities and counties the addresses that were rented out on their sites as well as the number of nights those properties were rented and for what prices. Local governments could have used the information to ensure transient occupancy taxes were paid and to ferret out vacation rentals operating in cities that bar them. The bill had the backing of various cities, hotel lobbies and organized labor. But Airbnb fought back against the proposed regulations, hiring its first contract lobbyist in Sacramento and rallying its users with emails and phone calls. The company, along with its allied tech lobbies and the Santa Monica group Consumer Watchdog, framed the debate as a battle over its customers’ privacy.”
http://www.therecorder.com/id=1202728452451/Airbnb-Bill-Halted-By-Lobby-Blitz?slreturn=20150505224830

Should New Backyard Cottages Be Allowed as Short Term Rentals?
http://www.berkeleyside.com/2015/03/25/officials-to-relax-rules-for-berkeley-granny-flats/

“Airbnb Will Probably Get You Evicted and Priced Out of the City”
“If you look at the economics of it, Airbnb is ruining your life. Or, at least, your chances at a lasting life in the city. In an attempt to make an extra buck, you may be slowly screwing yourself out of the market…Every unit that’s being used for illegal hotel activity is a unit that’s not on the residential housing market.”
https://news.vice.com/article/airbnb-will-probably-get-you-evicted-and-priced-out-of-the-city

In Other News

Fun Protest! Saturday June 6 @ 10 AM
“…To fly large red, black and white balloons, three feet in diameter, to a height of 194 feet, near the planned site of The Residences at Berkeley Plaza, also known by its street address 2211 Harold Way. The building would be 180 feet high — or 194 feet, with the addition of an elevator housing and other infrastructure on top.”
http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_28244224/berkeley-activists-plan-visual-protest-downtown-proposal

Berkeley Rents Too Damn High
“The last time rents rose so crazily was 15 years ago during the last technology boom, and history seems to be repeating itself.” In 2000, the dotcom boom market, rents skyrocketed and now we are dealing with some of the same issues,” said Nick Traylor, a manager at the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board. Some landlords are even increasing rents by $400 to $1,000 a month if they have a tenant vacate a unit, said Traylor. He stressed these substantial increases are on top of the already high market rates being charged to the previous tenant. Elaine Perkins, who runs the Cal Rentals office at UC Berkeley, said students are living in cramped conditions to afford decent accommodation.”
http://www.berkeleyside.com/2015/05/28/berkeley-rental-rates-skyrocket-causing-problems-for-students-and-those-on-middle-incomes/

German Rent Freeze; Berlin Rent Ceilings
“Berlin is limiting rent increases to 10 percent of average rents in neighborhoods suffering housing shortages. Landlords often jack up rents by as much as 40 percent to take advantage of well-heeled newcomers who are flocking to the city from the around the world, said Reiner Wild, managing director of the Berlin Tenants Association.
“The rent ceiling is very important for Berlin because the difference between the rent paid in existing contracts and new contracts is so high,” Wild told The Guardian.”
https://news.vice.com/article/berlin-imposes-rent-caps-as-worlds-most-desirable-cities-become-gated-communities
Law allowing rent controls on Berlin’s inner-city property prevents landlords charging new tenants more than 10 per cent above the local average
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/property/news/11645625/berlin-rent-control-law-housing-crisis.html
“Berlin is pioneering the rent cap after the national parliament approved the law, aimed at areas with housing shortages, in March… “We don’t want a situation like in London or Paris,” said Wild. “The reality in Paris or London is that people with low income have to live in the further-out districts of the city.”
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/01/rent-cap-legislation-in-force-berlin-germany

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Four Housing Issues at City Council May 26

City Council continues discussion on #1 (Airbnb) on June 9.

 AirBnB in BerkeleyAirBnB in Berkeley

1) CHANGE Council Item 21: Short-Term Rental Regulations:
This Tuesday, Berkeley City Council will outline their directive for legalizing short-term rentals in Berkeley. Right now, rentals of less than 14 days are prohibited, but over 1,000 such illegal rentals are listed online.

Mayor Bates, who co-sponsored the item with new Councilperson Droste, assured Rent Board Commissioners at Thursday’s 4×4 Committee that his proposal will protect rent controlled units by continuing the ban on short-term rentals in unoccupied housing. The Mayor seemed surprised when Rent Board folks told him that about 400 rent controlled units were currently used only for vacation rentals, and that several large landlords are renting multiple units on Airbnb.

However, the Mayor and Councilman Capitelli were noncommittal when the Commissioners asked to be included in the Council referral and pointed out that proposals such as requiring the owner’s permission before a tenant rents their unit on Airbnb may conflict with state and local laws.

Councilman Arreguin and Rent Board Commissioners also raised the importance of enforcing the existing law and considering enforcement when creating the new law.

BTU is still formatting our position on the issue, which must have at least one public hearing at the Planning Commission before it becomes law, but we stand with the Rent Board in believing that short-term rentals are taking away needed housing.

We call for continuation of the ban on renting whole, empty apartments only for short stays. We need those homes for Berkeley students, Berkeley families, and Berkeley workers! We call for the elected Rent Board to be included in the process of making the new laws, and we call for enforcement of the existing laws when large landlords rent multiple units only for short term guests.

2) SUPPORT Council Item 19, State Short-Term Rentals Regulation:
The Council will also vote regarding support for a state bill which would compel hosting platforms like Home Away and Airbnb to share information with local governments. California Senate Bill 593, by McGuire and Leno, is essential to regulating vacation rentals.

3) SUPPORT Council Item 25: Amend the Housing Element
Councilmember Arreguin has introduced changes to the Housing Element that BTU members and friends called for at the Planning Commission in February, but City Council left out of the draft they approved. The proposal returns essential language about Berkeley values that was taken out of the Housing Element, such as, “Ensure rent control and/or other tenant protections for all tenants, including vulnerable populations,” and “All Berkeley residents should have access to decent housing at a range of prices and rents in pleasant neighborhoods that meet standards of quality.”
Most importantly, Arreguin’s amendments put back the priority that we should protect rent controlled housing from demolition and enforce those laws!

4) CHANGE Council Item 35, Community Benefits from Tall Buildings
Downtown developers must contribute more toward affordable housing.

TO LEARN MORE:

City Council Agenda
http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/Clerk/City_Council/2015/05_May/City_Council__05-26-2015_-_Regular_Meeting_Agenda.aspx

Rent Board on Short Term Rentals, Item 21:
“A summary of our major Rent Board concerns are as follows:
1) Loss of Housing: We hope that any Council policy recommendations to the Housing Advisory Commission and Planning Commission will focus on ensuring that whole units with kitchens that are not occupied by the host most of the year will remain available for permanent residents. Owners of multiple rental units in Berkeley should not be allowed to go into the hotel business.
2) Enforcement: Regulations must provide a workable enforcement mechanism with adequate funding and staffing. Penalties and remedies should be clear.
3) Tenants Rights: Berkeley’s new regulations must preserve rights tenants currently hold, such as the right to quiet enjoyment of their home as well as the right to sublet if they already hold that privilege. Council should include the Rent Board for input in their referral.”
Letter from the Rent Board regarding Short-Term Rentals

Text of the SB593 for Item 19: https://legiscan.com/CA/text/SB593/2015

Also on Item 19, SB 593: “This legislation is simple…It makes online vacation rental businesses follow local laws just like the rest of us.”  With concerns “about loud parties, traffic and other problems,” on the rise, this move could not come at a better time….If passed, Senate Bill 593 will help ensure short-term online rental companies follow some simple rules and regulations to preserve our neighborhoods, ensure consumer safety, and protect the well-being of longtime residents in communities across California.”
http://www.overnightoversight.com/ca-legislation-addresses-short-term-online-rental-concerns/

On Item 25, the Housing Element: http://berkeleytenants.org/?p=1195

On Item 35, Community Benefits from Downtown Buildings:
http://berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2015-05-22/article/43322?headline=Significant-Community-Benefits-an-open-letter-to-the-Berkeley-City-Council

In Other News

Thanks to BTU Members Who Sent in Most of These Stories

Windfall Profits Tax On High Rents (Fund Affordable Housing)
The only way off the treadmill is to build or buy housing that will be owned by non-profit organizations, land trusts and limited-equity cooperatives. And that takes money, a lot of money. So let’s tax the rising rents that increase the need for affordable housing in the first place.”
http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2015-05-22/article/43326?headline=Fund-Affordable-Housing-with-Windfall-Profits-Tax-on-Rising-Rents-News-Analysis—Stephen-Barton

Berkeley Development: Call for Moratorium on Luxury Construction
“…while the City is fully caught up and already ahead on its higher income units, we haven’t even made our quota for moderate or lower income units for 2006 yet. This makes the big push to build block after block of high rent homes and apartments unfathomable.”
http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2015-05-15/article/43314?headline=Berkeley-Needs-a-Moratorium-on-High-Rent-Units–Rhiannon 

California: Rents Go Up Fast, Income Goes Up Slow
“Since the end of 2010, rental prices have surged at nearly twice the pace of average hourly wages, according to data from the real estate firm Zillow and the Labor Department.
More than 30 percent of renters in California, Florida, New Jersey and New York state devote at least half their incomes to housing and utilities, according to the analysis.”
http://m.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/1-in-4-us-renters-must-use-half-their-pay-for-housing-costs/Content?oid=2928601

California: Wall Street Invests in Single-Family Home Rentals
“California tenants renting single-family homes from the three biggest Wall Street landlords in the state, Blackstone/Invitation Homes, Waypoint Homes, and Colony American Homes, pay higher rents than their neighbors and face challenges getting repairs,” according to a new research report by Tenants Together.
http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/5247/p/salsa/web/common/public/signup?signup_page_KEY=9191

SF: Mission Renters in NY Times
“When a family in a rent-controlled apartment leaves or is forced out, the rent is jacked up to market rate, apartments become condominiums or are advertised by the landlord on Airbnb as a good place for short-term visits.”
http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/05/23/us/high-rents-elbow-latinos-from-san-franciscos-mission-district.html

City of Alameda Considers Eviction Protections
“Advocates for local renters, who make up about half the Island’s population, have pressed for rent control and other protections. But at least three members of the council have questioned whether rent control would be an effective solution to renters’ woes, or whether the city should get involved in rents issues at all.”
http://thealamedan.org/news/rents-blog-just-cause-eviction

San Jose Renters Hold Rally
http://kron4.com/2015/05/13/activists-hold-rally-in-support-of-san-jose-renter-protections/

Lafayette Considers Rent Control or Rent Freeze May 26
“…City Council acknowledged that high rents are a problem all over the Bay Area, but also expressed sympathy for the renters, saying that 90% increases were “crazy” and “beyond the pale.”   In the end, the Council asked for more information from small towns similar to Lafayette that have adopted rent control or stabilization policies (such as Los Gatos).  It also asked the City Attorney to investigate whether the City could impose a temporary moratorium on rent increases.”
http://lovelafayette.org/Home/Components/News/News/966/18?backlist=%2Fhome

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Short-Term Rentals Update

The Trouble With AirBnB

The owner of 3100 College lists 11 Berkeley apartments on AirBnB.

The owner of 3100 College lists 11 Berkeley apartments on AirBnB.

The Berkeley City Council will begin the process of legalizing short-term rentals.

Right now, Berkeley law prohibits residential rentals of less than 14 days, according to a March 18 Planning Department staff report. However, over one thousand such rentals are listed on hosting platform Airbnb in Berkeley. The City plans to legalize these rentals in some form, and collect the hotel tax from them.

The Berkeley Rent Board has identified three issues with potential short term rentals regulations in a letter they are sending to the City Council: the loss of rental housing, adequate enforcement of new laws, and preservation of existing rights for tenants. “Allowing unlimited short-term rentals or creating regulations that lack enforcement will contribute to the housing crisis in Berkeley,” they said.

Meanwhile, Berkeley’s code inspectors don’t seem to be enforcing the existing prohibition. Two Berkeley Tenants who have been to code enforcement have been told different things. A few months ago, a tenant who lives beneath a vacation rental was told at the counter that “it’s illegal but there is nothing you can do about it.” Another Berkeley Tenant who lives next door to such a rental spoke to code enforcement last week and was told it is hard to find evidence of the rentals. Meanwhile, San Francisco fined one landlord $276,000 for evicting tenants with the Ellis Act and then renting to tourists on VRBO.

The central question in the local debate seems to be how to limit short-term rentals of rent controlled units, particularly in owner-occupied, smaller buildings. The Rent Board letter says that such rentals could still have a big impact on available rental housing, and cites a chart from the Housing Element which shows 21% of all Berkeley housing is in 2-4 unit buildings. It seems that the Rent Board is discussing rentals of empty units like hotel rooms, not homes where the occupant is away on their own vacation. BTU has identified a handful of large landlords renting five or even ten units to tourists all year round, and is examining Santa Monica’s new law as a model, since that town has rental control rules similar to the Berkeley laws on rental units.

If you are a tenant who has been displaced – and replaced – by a tourist rental, contact BTU. We are also looking for more tenants who can no longer relax at home because the unit next to them has been turned into a hotel.

The City Council is expected to discuss a framework for regulations, then refer the issue to the Housing and Planning Commissions, as early as May 26.

IMPORTANT DATES

Thursday May 21 @ 10 AM
4×4 Committee (Rent Board/City Council)
2001 Center Street
Rent Stabilization Program’s Law Library, 2nd floor
http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/Clerk/Home/4x4_Committee_Homepage.aspx

Tuesday May 26 @ 7 PM
City Council Meeting
2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
ITEMS 19 and 21
http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/Clerk/City_Council/2015/05_May/City_Council__05-26-2015_-_Regular_Meeting_Agenda.aspx

LINKS

March 18 Staff Report to Planning Commission:
http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/Clerk/Commissions/Commissions__Planning_Commission_Homepage.aspx

Berkeley Rent Board Letter to City Council (Item 4):
http://www.cityofberkeley.info/Rent_Stabilization_Board/Home/Agenda__RSB_2015_May_11.aspx

San Francisco City Attorney Sues Landlords Over Short-Term Rentals
“Illegal conversions that push long-term tenants out of their homes diminish the availability of residential rental units for San Franciscans, and they’re a significant contributor to our housing affordability crisis,” Herrera said. …The City Attorney’s Office suspects that the Lees aren’t the only landlords flouting state and city laws in that fashion, and is eager to pursue other cases like this one. Folks who want to report violations like the Lees’ are encouraged to contact the City Attorney’s code enforcement hotline.”
http://sfist.com/2015/05/07/landlords_who_evicted_tenants_to_ma_1.php

“Also last year, Herrera filed a similar case against landlords in North Beach. That case settled in January with the landlords paying $115,000 in penalties and agreeing to a similar injunction.”
http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/Landlords-fined-for-evicting-tenants-to-make-a-6246550.php

Santa Monica Bans Short Term Rentals of Whole Units
“Santa Monica has taken one of the strongest stances of any city against the practice of professional landlords hoarding all their properties for tourists instead of for actual renters, keeping housing off an already crunched and expensive market. Full-unit rentals account for the overwhelming majority of the listings on Airbnb in Los Angeles, and for nearly all of the listings that actually make money.”
http://la.curbed.com/archives/2015/05/santa_monica_just_banned_airbnbs_biggest_moneymakers.php

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Got Bed Bugs?

1280px-Bed_bug,_Cimex_lectularius

The Berkeley Rent Board awarded two tenants 100% of their rent back after a young couple moved into a room on University Avenue that already had a serious bed bug infestation.

One tenant testified that the very first morning after he slept in his new home he counted more than 80 bites. The couple said they slept in 4-hour shifts, with one staying on guard to fend off the bed bugs, for several weeks. Commissioners described the photos as “horrifying” and voted unanimously to uphold the hearing examiner’s award of a 100% reduction in rent for the time that the bugs were present.

According to documents in the Appeal heard by the Board on Monday night, a Vector Control inspection made just nine days after the renters moved into the living room suggested that the blood-sucking pests were in the unit well before the new renters arrived. According to the Rent Board staff’s legal recommendation in the appeal, the landlord should have known about the bugs. Not only would the owner have seen the “100’s to thousands” of bugs in the living room curtain had he checked the unit before renting it, but he should also have been aware of the pests since other tenants had moved because of bed bugs.

These tenants did everything right: they contacted the owner immediately, made their expectation that he hire a professional clear, contacted the Berkeley Rent Board, and arranged an Environmental Health inspection within days of the first bites. It seems they followed all the difficult steps in cooperation with the exterminator as well, because they got rid of the notoriously challenging bugs within weeks.

Unfortunately the owner initially made the situation worse by spraying some bug spray himself. There is no known over-the-counter treatment for bed bugs, and these bugs are known for spreading to other rooms and other units if disturbed by an ineffectual poison. Someone also said the landlord brought a blow torch into the unit to treat the furniture and dragged an infested mattress onto the roof to lay in the sun.

It is not known why the renters in the other two rooms in the unit did not join in the complaint. The landlord rents each room separately.

Got Bed Bugs?

  1. Contact the Rent Board Agency: rent@cityofberkeley.info
  2. Contact the Health Inspector: envhealth@ci.berkeley.ca.us
  3. Drop us a line at info at berkeley tenants dot org
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Berkeley Tenants are urged to join members of the notorious Berkeley Property Owners Association at a Public Hearing this Monday, May 4 at 7 PM

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 1.01.34 PM

The Board must consider raising their registration fees for the first time since 2009.

Tell Them Yes
The Rent Board must maintain or increase their services!

The fee might go up as much as 10%.
Market Rents have gone up at least 10% EACH YEAR, according to several sources. Even rents under rent control have gone up over 8% since the last time the Rent Board raised their fee. But the landlords are going to tell the Board they can’t afford another $19 a year. Even though the entire registration fee is less than 1% of the average rent for a one-bedroom in Berkeley.

Please join BTU on Monday.
Tell your story.  Encourage the Board to maintain staffing, or even increase services.

Landlords Can Afford It: Rents Going Up Up Up!

Rents in the East Bay up 62.5% in five years
http://www.ctbtapartments.com/images/reports/Bay_Area_Multi_Family_Snapshot_Q1_2015.pdf

“Berkeley had the largest change, with a 32.4 percent spike in rents from January 2014 to January 2015.”
http://sf.curbed.com/archives/2015/02/24/yikes_the_bay_area_leads_the_nation_in_annual_rent_growth.php

http://www.mercurynews.com/business/ci_26733312/bay-area-apartment-rents-at-record-high

http://abc30.com/realestate/san-francisco-bay-area-rents-continue-to-climb/504262/

Where Does the Money Go? Rent Board Info:

7a3_Prelim Mkt Medians Report for Q2 Q3 Q4 2014-1

At BTU, we’ve always found the above chart from the Rent Board a little curious. We never see Berkeley apartments on Craigslist for as low as these “median” rents above. For more info on REAL rent increases in Berkeley, see http://berkeleytenants.org/?p=1085

The Rent Board voted to increase the fee by $19 on May 11, 2015. BTU had three times as many speakers as the landlord association at the May 4 hearing.

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