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

Berkeley Law Blocks Unfair Evictions

Berkeley tenants are protected against arbitrary evictions. Generally, a tenant can stay in her or his rental unit as long as she or he pays the rent on time, obeys the law and does not create a nuisance, intrude on the rights of fellow tenants or damage the property. The new vacancy decontrol law did not change Berkeley's "good cause for eviction" requirements.

The following information addresses commonly-asked questions about evictions in Berkeley.

A tenant in Berkeley cannot be evicted without "good cause." There are exceptions for some rental units which are exempt from the Rent Ordinance but, for the most part, a Berkeley tenant cannot be evicted without a good reason.

The Berkeley Rent Ordinance lists eleven good causes for eviction. (See Berkeley Municipal Code section 13.76.130(A).) The good causes fall into three categories:

Tenant Created Causes - failure to pay rent, material breach of the lease, willful damage, refusal to sign a new lease, unreasonable noise or disturbing other tenants, and refusal to provide landlord proper access.

Habitability Causes - substantial repairs required to comply with health and safety codes or landlord intends to demolish building.

Landlord Use Causes - landlord to use unit as own or relative's principal residence.

The mere expiration of a lease is not a good cause for eviction. A tenant does not have to leave just because the lease is up. When a lease expires, the landlord may renew the lease for the same term (e.g., a year's lease may be renewed for another year); otherwise, a month-to-month tenancy is automatically created on the same terms as in the original lease. In any event, the tenant does not have to vacate the premises and the rent may not be increased, unless authorized by the Rent Board.

A landlord may not increase the rent to market level following an owner move-in eviction or the termination of a federal Section 8 contract. Some property owners may attempt to take advantage of the new vacancy decontrol provisions by evicting long-term tenants to move into the unit themselves or to have a relative move in. Some property owners are also being advised to "opt-out" of Section 8 contracts in anticipation of market rents from new tenants. The new rent increase rules do not apply, however, where a vacancy has occurred following a 30-day notice to vacate (e.g., because the landlord intends to move into the unit), or where there has been a change in the terms of the lease (e.g., cancellation of a Section 8 contract). The first time a unit is rented after either of these occurrences, the rent paid by the new tenant may be no higher than the rent paid by the prior tenant.

ANNUAL PAYMENT OF INTEREST ON SECURITY DEPOSITS

State law permits landlords to collect security deposits up to twice the rent for an unfurnished unit, or three times the rent for a furnished unit. A security deposit may not be increased during the term of the tenancy.

Berkeley's Rent Ordinance requires that landlords place security deposits in interest-bearing accounts and return the interest to the tenant by direct refund or one-time rent reduction each December. If the interest is not returned by January 10th, the tenant may, after notice to the landlord, compute the interest at 10% and deduct it from the next month's rent.

1999 ANNUAL GENERAL ADJUSTMENT

Beginning January 1, 1999, landlords may, after giving 30 days written notice, impose a rent increase of 1% or $8.00, whichever is less. Eligibility for the adjustment is contingent upon compliance with the Ordinance and Regulations.

ADJUSTING TO VACANCY DECONTROL

In response to state-mandated vacancy decontrol, the Rent Board has changed a number of its regulations effective in January, 1999.

Capital Improvements. Where rental units become vacant and are rerented at market rates, with the exception of emergency repairs, no rent increases will be allowed for capital improvements or repairs that were finished before the unit was rerented or are started within one year of the vacancy. In addition, even after the one-year period, a rent increase for a capital improvement will be reduced by the amount of any post-1999 vacancy increases received for any unit at the property.

Professional Fees. The imposition of vacancy decontrol relieves the Rent Board of the obligation to allow rent increases for professional fees, so the Board repealed Regulation 1248 effective January, 1999.

Involuntary Vacancy. Under vacancy decontrol, a landlord can set a market-rate rent on vacancy only if the vacancy resulted from the tenant's voluntary departure or eviction for good cause; the rent is not decontrolled if the vacancy occurred after the landlord gave notice of a unilateral change in the terms of the rental agreement. The Rent Board passed a regulation stating that if a tenant moves out within one year of receiving a notice of change in terms, it will be presumed that he or she left because of the notice. The rent will remain controlled for the next tenant unless the landlord demonstrates that the notice did not cause the tenant to move.

Other Changes. The Board also made minor changes to a number of its regulations to bring them into conformity with the vacancy decontrol law. The Board also clarified the rent certification procedure for units that have rent increases upon vacancy under the vacancy decontrol law.

PREVENTING HOMELESSNESS IN BERKELEY

Have you lost your job? 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 today for an appointment with ECHO Housing, which operates HPP for the City.

ASK THE RENT BOARD

The Rent Board receives over 300 inquiries a week from Berkeley landlords and tenants. Many are received by e-mail (rent@ci.berkeley.ca.us). The Berkeley Voice has started publishing a column containing our most interesting questions and answers. It is called "Ask the Rent Board" and appears every other Thursday. Look for it.