BERKELEY RENTAL NEWS  April, 1999 - Newsletter of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board

SECURITY DEPOSITS MUST BE RETURNED TO TENANTS

State law requires landlords to return the tenants deposit or give a written accounting for any deductions within 21 days of the termination of a tenancy. A landlord can deduct for only (1) unpaid rent, (2) damage beyond normal wear and tear, and (3) necessary cleaning. No portion of a security deposit is non-refundable.
Tenants can protect themselves from unjustified deductions at the end of a tenancy. First, they should clean the unit after they move their belongings. The apartment should be restored to the condition it was in at the beginning of the tenancy. Tenants are not responsible for ordinary wear-and-tear, such as peeling paint, faded drapes, or worn carpets, resulting from normal use or the passage of time.

Second, tenants should document the condition of the apartment when they move. For example, they can take photos of every room, have a friend inspect the  apartment, or arrange a walk through inspection with the landlord.

Third, tenants should give the landlord their forwarding address. Landlords must give tenants an itemized list of deductions and refund the balance of the security deposit within 21 days after the tenants leave a rental unit. A landlord who fails to comply with this rule forfeits the right to retain any part of the security deposit and, absent evidence that the failure to comply was in good faith, will be required to refund the entire deposit to the tenant.

Tips from the Counselors:

  • Arrange for a Bay Area forwarding address. Some landlords routinely neglect to return deposits to out-of-state tenants.
  • Tenants who believe their landlord has wrongfully retained all or a portion of their security deposit can either file a petition with the Rent Board or file in Small Claims Court; state law permits a judge to penalize the landlord up to $600 beyond the amount in dispute for bad faith claim or retention.
  • Also, at the end of your tenancy, remember to request a refund of the interest which has accrued on your deposit since January.

REGULATION CHANGE STRENGTHENS HABITABILITY REMEDY

Under Board Regulation 1269, a tenant may obtain a rent decrease when a rental unit is not up to code or a landlord fails to fix a dilapidated condition. The Board recently amended Regulation 1269 so that the tenant receives the rent reduction for the entire period that the rental unit is substandard, even if the substandard condition does not actually impair the tenants use of the unit for a while. For example, if the roof leaks, the rent will be reduced until the roof is fixed, even after the rainy season has ended.

HOUSING CODE ENFORCEMENT PROMOTES SAFE AND HABITABLE HOUSING

Rental units in Berkeley are subject to inspection under the Housing Code Enforcement program. For most habitability problems, call the Residential Rental Inspection Program at 644-6001 to request an inspection or visit the office at 2201 Dwight Way, 2nd floor. (For problems with mold, rodents or trash accumulation, call Environmental Health at 644-6510; for inspection of possibly dangerous window bars, call the Fire Department at 644©6665.) Before you call for an inspection, you should contact your landlord or other appropriate person to try to have the problem resolved.

When an inspection request is received, a housing inspector will call to make an appointment. (Inspectors try to call within five days of receiving an inspection request.) If the inspector finds violations in the unit, a letter listing the violations and setting a deadline for repairs will be mailed to the landlord, and a copy of the letter will be mailed to the tenant. In most cases, the landlord makes the required repairs within the allotted time.

If the problem isn't resolved within a reasonable time, you can file a petition for rent decrease with the Rent Stabilization Board.

GET THE LEAD OUT

The Rent Board office at 2125 Milvia Street is a distribution point for FREE lead-safe painting prep materials. The only requirement is that you own pre-1978 residential property in Alameda, Berkeley, Oakland or Emeryville. So drop by and pick up a bucket filled with prep materials worth $80.00. The program is sponsored by the Alameda County Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. For information on their other FREE services, call 567-8280.

A WORD OF ADVICE

With the passage of Costa-Hawkins, there is an incentive to force a tenant out of his or her apartment for minor violations of the lease so that the rent may be raised for a new tenant. Protect yourself by sending a confirming letter whenever you enter into an oral agreement that is an exception to the terms of your lease.
For example, if your lease prohibits subletting but your landlord tells you that he will allow you to sublet your apartment over the summer, send the landlord the following letter:

Dear landlord,

This is to confirm today's conversation in which you agreed to allow me to sublet my apartment, Unit #C, for the three months, June-August, that I will be away from Berkeley. Thank you for this privilege.

Sincerely,

Tenant

No one wants to come back to Berkeley in the middle of the summer to defend an eviction action for an illegal sublet they thought their landlord had agreed to.

HELP US TO HELP YOU

PIU staff gives information and advice; they can't make your decisions. Tenants and landlords can assist staff in providing quick and accurate information by following these suggestions.

1. Be prepared to give staff the following information: the address of the unit, beginning date of tenancy, rent paid, number of tenants, number of bedrooms, code violations, housing services provided, etc.
2. Have all relevant documents ready. If you are calling about your lease or a letter you received, have a copy in hand.
3. Don't call when you are busy. You take time away from other customers if you are doing something else when you call.

PREVENTING HOMELESSNESS IN BERKELEY

Are you down on your luck and unable to afford to pay your rent this month? Or do you know someone living out of his or her car? The City of Berkeley's Homelessness Prevention Program (HPP) may be able to help.

To qualify for HPP, you must be a Berkeley resident, and you must demonstrate that you are either in imminent danger of becoming homeless or that you are already homeless. If this sounds like someone you know, call 548-5420 for an appointment with ECHO Housing, which operates HPP for the City.