In Berkeley, tenants have a right to live in safe housing and landlords are required to certify that the housing they are renting out meets safety standards. That’s why, every July 1st, owners of rental housing in Berkeley must certify that their units meet those safety standards. They do this by utilizing the Rental Housing Safety Program (RHSP) Self Certification Safety Checklist known as Schedule A. All owners of rental property, even those with only one or two units, are required to fill out the form every year. The Schedule A form, which was revised in September 2018, requires the owner to certify that the structural elements of the building, both inside and out, are functioning properly and safely.
For instance, the form asks that owners certify that doors have working deadbolts; that windows are fully operable with no cracked or broken panes; and that the heating system, plumbing and gas lines are in good working order. Landlords must also certify that elevated, exposed decks, balconies or walkways show no visible signs of sagging, leaning, or cracking and that they have no other defects that permit moisture to seep in and possibly deteriorate the structure. In 2015, a balcony at the apartment complex formerly known as Library Gardens collapsed because moisture had seeped into the base of the balcony, resulting in the death of six Irish students.
The City does not require owners to provide it with the certified checklist, instead, the owner must provide the Schedule A checklist to each tenant; this informs the tenant that the unit is certified as safe. The owner must also keep a copy of the form. In order to completely fill out all elements of the Schedule A form, a tenant must allow the owner access to the unit once every year. If a tenant does not allow an owner into the unit to self-certify, the owner must then inform the City by submitting Schedule A to the RHSP office indicating that certification was not possible.
The RHSP is part of the City’s existing program of conducting proactive inspections to randomly selected properties as well as inspections in response to complaints. During an inspection of a rental unit or room, the property owner is required to produce a copy of the completed ScheduleA form. If the owner fails to produce a copy of the form, the inspector may issue the owner a citation and a $200 fine, for not being in compliance with Berkeley Municipal Code (BMC) 12.48.050.
There are, however, exceptions to the owner self-certification requirement: newly constructed rental units are exempt for five years after the issuance of a certification of occupancy; additionally, once a unit or room has been inspected by the City, and the owner receives a Notice of Compliance, the unit or room does not need to be certified again for a period of three years.
Tenants living in units that have safety issues, such as broken windows or leaky roofs may make an inspection request to the City’s Housing Code Enforcement unit.