The Berkeley Rent Board Mailbag


Q: I am a new landlord and forgot to pay my registration fee. Is there a penalty for late payments?  (July 2004)

Yes. The penalty is 100% of the fee. This year fees are $136 per unit, so, if you didn't pay by July 1st when the annual fees are due, you now owe $272. However, based on your payment history over the last six years, all or part of the late penalty may be automatically waived if your payment is made by September 30th. Since you have never been late before, 100% of the penalty will be waived automatically this year. If you are late again in the next five years, only 90% of the late fee would be automatically waived. The more times one is late, the lower the amount waived. Our agency assesses the FULL late fee on landlords who have been late six times in 6 years or when suing landlords who have not paid their fees after repeated billings. Additionally, the Board will consider waiver requests on a case-by-case basis for late payment of fees due to extenuating circumstances (see Regulation 884).

Q: I am a new landlord. What are my obligations regarding registration?  (July 2004)

You must fill out an Amended Registration Statement telling us you're the new owner within 60 days of acquiring the property. Make sure all the information in our database concerning your current tenancies is correct, and report any new tenancies to us on a Vacancy Registration Form within two weeks of the start of any new tenancy. (You can pick up these forms at our offices, call to have them mailed to you, or download them from our website.)

Q: I am a tenant and recently received a Notice of Apparent Lawful Rent Ceiling from your office. It says my tenancy began in June of 1998 and my rent ceiling is $946. But I moved in in August of 2002 and am paying $1100. Am I being overcharged? (March 2003)

Probably not. It appears as if your landlord neglected to file a Vacancy Registration Form reporting your tenancy to us. The information in our database pertains to the previous tenancy. When you moved in, assuming the previous tenant vacated voluntarily or was evicted because of their own actions, the landlord had the right to re-set the rent. Your new rent ceiling is whatever you agreed to pay when you moved in in 2002. Your landlord may be ineligible for any rent increases until they file a Vacancy Registration Form for your tenancy.

Q: I am the new owner of a vacant 6-bedroom house. I want to rent it out but am not sure if I should rent out rooms or rent it collectively to a group. What is your advice? (February 2003)

There are pros and cons to both possibilities. If the house is the only dwelling on the property, and you rent it out collectively to a group of tenants who mutually determine rights of access to the various portions of the rental unit, the property will be exempt from rent ceiling regulation and from Rent Board registration fees. If any tenant leaves, the remaining tenants are responsible for that person's share of the rent and for finding a replacement roommate. While new roommates might need your approval, you will not have absolute control over who resides in the house. 

If you rent out rooms on separate leases, the house will be considered a rooming house, and each room must be registered with the Rent Board. The rent increases for each unit are regulated during the tenancy. If any tenant vacates, the remaining tenants do not pay the rent for the vacant unit, and you are responsible for finding a new tenant.

Q: My elderly mother just moved out of the house she owned and lived in for 25 years and has asked me to help her rent it out. Do I need to register it with the Rent Board? (February 2003)

If there is only one unit on the property, that is, it has no additional unit like an in-law or a cottage, the house is considered a single-family dwelling (even if isn't occupied by a family) under state law, and is exempt from rent ceilings and registration requirements. An exception to this rule is if the house has more than four bedrooms, and you rent each bedroom to an individual tenant under a separate lease, it is considered a rooming house under Rent Board regulations, and each room must be separately registered. But if you rent the house as a whole, no reporting to the Rent Board or payment of fees is required. However, two sections of the Rent Ordinance still apply to single-family homes: interest must be paid annually on security deposits and there must be good cause for eviction.

Q: I live in a house that is divided into five apartments, but only four are registered. My unit, the attic unit, is not registered. Does that mean my landlord is out of compliance for not reporting my unit?  (July 2002)

Not necessarily. If your unit was created by converting uninhabitable space into habitable space after June 30, 1980, the Rent Board considers it "new construction." (See Berkeley Municipal Code section 13.76.050 I.) Newly constructed units, including attics, basements, and garages that were converted into living space after that date are exempt from the registration and rent ceiling requirements of the Rent Ordinance (but the security deposit and good cause for eviction provisions still apply). If you discover that the attic was used as living space before 1980, then your apartment should be registered with the Rent Board.

Q: I am the sole owner of a three-unit property. I live in the largest unit and want to rent out my spare bedroom and, thus, share my home with a tenant. I have already registered the two other units, but do I have to register my unit with the Rent Board? Will the Rent Board set the rent on my unit?

No, a rental unit is exempt under the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Ordinance sections 5(G) and (H) when an owner with a recorded interest of 50% or more resides in the unit as his or her principal residence, and shares kitchen or bath facilities with the tenant(s). Since, you are the sole owner (provided your interest is recorded), you are not required to register the unit that you share and you may set the rent for it as well. However, you must continue to register the other two units as the exemption is for your unit only.

Q: I'm a new landlord. When I bought my building in December 2000, the registration fees were already paid for the year, so this will be the first year that I have to register. What is the process?

First, if you have not already done so, you must file an Amended Registration Statement and report the ownership change so that we can update our billing records. If you have already notified us of the change, then you should receive a registration bill in late May or early June. The Rent Board's registration year runs from July 1st through June 30th. Registration payments are due July 1st, or the next business day when the first falls on a weekend. This year, the payment deadline is July 2nd, and the fee is $124 per unit. You may pay the fee by mail or in person at the Rent Board offices.

The price for failing to register can be high. Registration payments received after the deadline are subject to a 100% penalty and an additional 100% every six months that the fees remain unpaid. Landlords with unregistered units are unable to evict tenants; are ineligible for annual general adjustments; and are prohibited from filing petitions for rent increases. Finally, tenants may file a rent withholding petition to compel registration.

Q: I'm a new landlord. I own some rental property in Berkeley, am I still required to register it?

Maybe. Registration is required for each residential rental unit in Berkeley unless a unit is exempt from the registration provision of the Rent Ordinance. The most frequently claimed grounds for exemptions are: individual owner-occupied units or owner-occupied duplexes (where the property was occupied by a 50% owner of record on December 31, 1979, and is occupied by a 50% owner of record today); units rented under the Section 8 or Shelter Plus Care programs; New Construction (units added to Berkeley's residential housing stock since May 31, 1980); units that are occupied rent-free; vacant units that are not available for rent; and single family houses and condos with tenancies that began on or after January 1, 1996. There are a few other grounds for exemption; before you either register the unit or declare it exempt, you should consult a Public Information Counselor at the Rent Board offices.

Q: I'm a landlord and I just completed renovations on a unit that has been off the rental market for several years. Do I still need to register it with the Rent Board?

Yes. You must register the unit with the Board within 60 days of the date you offer it for rent. Registration consists of filing a Vacancy Registration and paying an annual registration fee. The Board's registration year runs from July 1st to June 30th. If you rent a unit midway through the registration year, your fees will be prorated according to the number of months remaining in the fiscal year. Currently, the fee is $10 per month. In May, you will receive a bill for registration fees for the 2001-2002 fiscal year. That payment will be due by July 2, 2001.

Q: I'm a new landlord and I have just rented out an apartment in my building that has been exempt for several years. Do I need to register now, or can I wait until the beginning of your new fiscal year in July?

Sixty (60) days from the date the unit becomes available for rent you must do the following: (1) file an Initial Registration Statement (IRS) or an Amended Registration Statement if an IRS had been previously filed; and (2) pay a prorated registration fee. A late registration fee will accrue if the unit is not registered within the 60-day period. Therefore, if you wait until the beginning of the new fiscal year, you will owe late registration penalties. (Rent Stabilization Ordinance Section 13.76.080).
The registration fee for a unit registered after July 1st is calculated at $10 per month multiplied by the number of months remaining in the fiscal year, which runs from July through June. So, for example, if you offered the unit for rent on January 1st, the registration fee would be $60.00.

On a further point, the Ordinance requires that, within 30 days of a unit being re-registered, the tenants be provided a true copy of the new registration statement or other written notification of the unit's updated registration status.

Q: I'm a new landlord and I overlooked my registration bill and my payment was late. I have heard that there is a 100% penalty for a late payment. Is there anything I can do to avoid this?

The Rent Board routinely waives late penalties for accounts where the payment is received within 90 days of the due date and where the landlord has maintained a perfect payment record for the previous three years. If, however, there was a late payment in the last three years, the owner is not eligible for an automatic waiver and must file a written request for a waiver that includes an explanation of why the payment was late. 

Some circumstances that may excuse late payment are listed in Regulation 884: (1) a death or illness in the family; (2) a new owner with no other residential rental property in Berkeley was unaware of the property registration requirements of the Rent Ordinance; (3) a failure to receive the original billing statement; (4) a good faith belief the property or unit was exempt from the registration requirements of the Rent Ordinance; (5) the owner does not speak English and misinterpreted the billing information received from the Rent Board; or (6) the owner was unaware of the requirement to pay a prorated registration fee on a previously exempt unit that was rented after July 1. The waiver request will be reviewed by the full Board, which will make the ultimate determination.

Q: I’m a new landlord and I just received my bill for registration fees.  It says that if payments are not received by the due date, there will be a 100% penalty.  This is an extremely high penalty.  How is it justified?

The 100% penalty was enacted after the initial passage of rent control in Berkeley because so many landlords were intentionally withholding registration fees in order to express their disagreement with the Ordinance.  It is not a fee charged for the purpose of raising revenues, but a penalty to encourage compliance.  As a matter of practice, the Rent Board waives assessed penalties on a regular basis when good cause is shown for the late payment of fees.

Q: Shortly after I bought a building, I received notice that registration fees and penalties were owed to the Rent Board.  I paid over $400 in penalties, but this seems unfair and I wonder if there is any way I could get a refund of some or all of the penalties?

The Rent Ordinance (B.M.C. Section 13.76.080(F)) provides that a landlord may request a waiver of all or part of a penalty if he/she can show good cause for the delinquent payment. You may submit a letter requesting a waiver of penalties and explaining why the registration fees were paid after the due date.  Your request will be reviewed and processed in accordance with the appropriate regulations. 

Q: I want to rent some rooms in my house. Do I have to register with the Rent Board? Will the Rent Board set my rents?

A rental unit is exempt under the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Ordinance when an owner of record of 50% or more of the property resides in the unit as his or her principal residence, and shares kitchen or bath facilities with the tenants. Assuming you are a qualified owner, registration with the Board is not required, and you are allowed set your own rents. In addition, you are not subject to the Eviction for Good Cause provisions set forth in the Ordinance.

 Q: Both of the tenants in a duplex I own are moving soon, so I plan to take that opportunity to sell the property. Since I am not planning on renting the units, the entire house will be exempt from the annual registration fees as of the date the last tenant moves out, right? Then, if the new owner decides to rent one or both of the units, he or she will be responsible for paying the registration fees, right?

If neither unit is available for rent on July 1, 1999, you should simply note that the units are "vacant, not available" on the Unit Status form that you should have received with your annual bill and return the form to the Rent Board. If the property is sold and a new owner decides to rent one or both of the units, the new owner will need to come in and register the units.

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