Berkeley Tenants Union joins with Friends of Adeline on Sunday to organize South Berkeley renters for a meeting about common problems like repairs.
Berkeley Tenants Union joins with Friends of Adeline on Sunday to organize South Berkeley renters for a meeting about common problems like repairs.
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.”
Deaths Preventable, Says Lawsuit
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…”
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!
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.”
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!
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.”
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.”
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.”
Details About Each Step of the SF Case:
Airbnb Pulls 900 Illegal SF 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.”
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.”
Details on Santa Monica Lawsuit
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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:
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
More on Costa Hawkins
Berkeley Property Owners debate Rent Board Staff on KALW
History Lesson: How Costa Changed Berkeley
The Law Itself Is Really Hard to Read
Track Changes to This Bare Bones Bill Here:
BPOA employee says U1 funds being misdirected.
“Tuesday night, they approved an “emergency” ordinance to buy the old Premier Cru building complex on University Avenue for $6.65 million. They want to use the site for future City Council chambers and maybe later, for affordable housing.”
More on Council Item
“It will repay the funds from money generated from excess property taxes and Measure U1, the new business tax on rental properties that voters approved in November. The funds will be repaid with interest, said city spokesman Matthai Chakko.”
Council Item Itself
“$4.650 million (70% of the purchase price) from Measure U1 revenue”
Rent Board Delays Appointing Commissioner
The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board honored outgoing Commissioner Harr but decided to delay appointment of a new Commissioner until May. They chose to delay because Commissioner Murphy was absent due to a family emergency.
Here is the report that ranks contenders for the position, including several candidates who did not make the slate at the 2016 Tenant Convention. BTU is not taking a position yet, because most candidates are BTU members, including Stefan Elgstrand, Tim Kingston, and Christine Schwartz.
People’s Park Anniversary as UC Considers Building, Again
April 23 is the anniversary celebration for People’s Park.
“In 1968 the University used eminent domain to evict the residents and demolish all the houses on the block. Apparently they talked of plans to build needed student housing but nothing happened. For a year the empty lot was an eyesore, muddy and strewn with garbage. In April 1969 activists put out a call for people to help create a park. Hundreds came and cleared the ground, planted flowers and trees and built a children’s playground. They created a park, a People’s Park, that still lives today.”
BARF Lawsuit Could End Neighborhood Preservation
The Bay Area Renter’s Federation, (SF BARF) known as a tool for developers and not a tenants group, is suing over a Council decision to deny permits at 1310 Haskell.
“The law states that a city or county cannot deny the approval of a housing project that complies with its general plan and zoning ordinance without substantial evidence that it will negatively impact public health or safety.”
Low Income Tenants Ousted By Oakland Fire
“The residents even obtained a restraining order against the building’s landlord. And, now, their lawyer is calling for an arson investigation.”
Harsh Laws Drive Artists to Unsafe Warehouses
The father of one artist who died in Oakland’s Ghost Ship Fire is speaking out about how impossible permitting processes and costly complex rules make it impossible for artists and musicians to make their spaces safe and legal and leave those without resources prey to slumlords.
UN Report on Housing as Commodity
“It details the shift in recent years that has seen massive amounts of global capital invested in housing as a commodity, particularly as security for financial instruments that are traded on global markets and as a means of accumulating wealth. As a result, she says, homes are often left empty – even in areas where housing is scarce.”
“This influx of capital has increased housing prices in many cities to levels that most residents cannot afford – in some cities by more than 50% in a 5-year period. Housing prices are no longer commensurate with household income levels, and instead are driven by demand for housing assets among global investors. When housing prices skyrocket, low and sometimes even middle-income residents are forced out of their communities by high rent or mortgage costs. When housing prices plummet, residents face mortgage foreclosure and homelessness.”
Tonight the Berkeley Rent Board will vote to narrow down the candidates who are applying to fill Commissioner Harr’s seat on the Board. There were over 16 applicants including many BTU members, several folks who serve on other Berkeley Commissions, and former landlord Commissioner Judy Hunt, who was just voted out of office!
To see applications look in the agenda packet:
To comment to the Board, you must appear in person at 7 PM.
Short Term Rentals
Tomorrow we hope the City Council will vote to pass (on second reading) a decent if not ideal law about short term rentals. BTU Steering decided to support this draft because the most important thing for Berkeley renters is that the city ENFORCE the rules about not turning rent controlled units into hotels! To date, the city has never responded to us about complaints BTU has filed regarding large landlords who rent multiple units on Airbnb. With the new City Council, and this new law, we hope to reduce the loss of permanent housing.
Read it here (Item 1):
Support Item One by Emailing:
Save The Date: Better Tenant Protections
As mentioned in our newsletter, the new Mayor Jesse Arreguin is going to move forward on better tenant protections by revising last year’s lame TPO. Council will review the new draft ordinance on March 14.
At a meeting in January, BTU selected fellow Tenants Union member Kate Harrison as the best candidate for renters in the District 4 Special Election for City Council.
Kate Harrison won overwhelming support at the endorsements meeting since she is already well-known for her leadership in getting the landlord tax passed last fall (Measure U1) as well as for her community work making sure big developers are forced to fund affordable units in Berkeley. Her platform also includes using a portion of the transfer tax on homes sold in Berkeley to fund even more low-income housing. Kate also wants to allow limited equity coops to use Housing Trust Fund money to purchase existing rental housing in order to keep it affordable.
Learn More About Kate’s Housing Proposals
Video from League of Women Voters Forum
The election is being held by mail to save costs. Ballots must be in by March 7th. The special election is needed because BTU member Jesse Arreguin, who was the District 4 Councilmember, was elected mayor last November.
Ben Gould Corrects Campaign Violations
“…violations of the Berkeley Election Reform Act had been committed, but determined that the violations had been corrected promptly.”
How the Candidates Differ
“Harrison emphasized protecting existing tenants against displacement by limiting short-term housing, protecting rent control, and enforcing rules on owner move-in evictions.”
“I would like to expand the current program helping building owners pay for energy improvements through their property taxes to include safety improvements for artists’ live/work spaces to avoid repeating the tragedy at the Oakland Ghost Ship. We cannot afford to lose our creative community either through disaster or displacement.”
The Berkeley Rent Board will select a new Commissioner to fill the seat vacated when BTU’s Katherine Harr chose to resign for personal reasons. The Board’s timeline is very tight, with written applications due next week, but anyone can apply. The eight sitting Commissioners will hold a special meeting later this month, then form a committee to interview top applicants, and finally select a new Commissioner on March 20. That appointee will complete Harr’s term.
The Berkeley Tenants Union encourages members to apply.
Easy to Apply
“I’m really excited to encourage people to get involved,” Harr said. “Especially students — everybody needs to be represented. … You have to be somebody that believes that collective decisions are better than individual decisions. You’ve got to believe … that talking about different perspectives leads to a better conclusion.”
Applications Due February 22nd
“The board is expected to appoint someone at its March 20 meeting to serve for the remainder of Harr’s term. Applicants must be registered Berkeley voters and must submit a letter of 500 words or less detailing their background and why they wish to serve on the board.”
How To Apply
“In addition to the 500-word statement about their candidacy, all applications must include the candidate’s full legal name, current living address (post office boxes will not be accepted), telephone and other contact numbers. The applications may be mailed or dropped off at the Rent Board offices at 2125 Milvia St., Berkeley 94704, to the attention of Jen Fabish. Applicants can also email Fabish at email@example.com. All applications are public documents.”
Rent Board Announcement
filling Bd vacancy (2-6-17)
re: Item 1, Second Reading of Short Term Rentals Law
Berkeley Tenants Union letter to City Council
February 14, 2017
Berkeley Tenants Union members have spent countless hours waiting to address the City Council in the past several years to deliver our message: in order to protect our rental housing stock, Council should only ease the ban on Short Term Rentals (STRs) a little bit at a time. We have been asking City Council for years to please JUST allow renters and owners to rent THEIR OWN HOMES for the short term, and move on to enforcing the existing ban on other STRs as soon as possible.
We remind you that all permanent housing – even housing that is not rent controlled – contributes to the diversity and affordability of Berkeley.
We are very concerned that Section 23C.22.020D will encourage new owners to evict long term tenants.
BTU members have also been consistent in our other message — simple laws make for better enforcement. Allowing some ADUs to be short term rentals but not others will be confusing for owners as well as adding an additional layer, and thus additional costs, for enforcement.
We did not send people to the Council meeting on January 24th because we thought that the leaders we worked so hard to get elected this fall had heard our pleas. We are not asking members to come out on Tuesday for the same reason – we expect you to preserve housing and create new housing, not establish new hotel rooms.
News reports did not say if the building’s owner was required to have installed a carbon monoxide detector, but BTU thought this would be a good time to remind all renters that MOST apartments have been required by state law to have CO detectors since 2013. Single-family and duplex homes were required to have the alarms as of July 2011.
Carbon monoxide does not smell. CO alarms are required on every floor, including basements, and should be placed in hallways outside of bedrooms. The law applies only to homes and buildings that have a gas heater or appliance, fireplace or attached garage. It is the renter’s responsibility to check and replace batteries.
Smoke detectors are required in all units.
Poison Gas May Have Come from 3D Printer
More on Deaths at 3028 Deakin Fourplex
500 People Die Each Year
“Because it is not a disease that requires reporting for record keeping, it is difficult to find statistics on how many illnesses and deaths occur from carbon monoxide poisoning in the Bay Area. But about 500 people die and 20,000 are injured each year nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In San Francisco, Pacific Gas & Electric crews have responded to 757 carbon monoxide investigation calls so far in 2012, said utility spokesman Joe Molica.”