The Berkeley Rent Board Mailbag
Q: I have a tenant whose water consumption has more than quadrupled. I, of course, am paying for the water, but I'd like to pass on the increases to the tenant. Is that possible?
Our advice would be to discuss the matter with the tenant, if you haven't already done so, to find out whether there is a leak and, if not, why his/her usage has increased. If there is no leak and you cannot reach an understanding with the tenant, you could petition the Rent Board to transfer responsibility for the water bill to the tenant with a corresponding rent ceiling decrease. In the alternative, you could petition for a rent ceiling increase; you would have to prove that the tenant is using more water than is reasonable for the number of occupants in the rental unit, and take the position that this constitutes an increase in services.
Q: I've lived in my apartment for 5 years. When I first moved in, there were a washer and dryer in the basement. Now the owner has obtained permits to convert the basement to another rental unit and is removing the washer and dryer. Can he do this?
He can remove the washer and dryer, but not without compensating you for your loss. Rent Board Regulation 1269 authorizes you to file a petition for a rent ceiling reduction when your housing services are decreased.
Q: I rent a parking space in the garage of my building. I alternately park my car and my motorcycle in the space. The space is not included in the regular rent for my apartment. Recently, my landlord said he received a complaint that my bike was too loud and threatened to take the space back if anyone else complained. Do I have a right to my parking space?
If the space is rented under a separate agreement, the landlord can terminate the rental with a 30-day written notice. Even if a service, such as a parking space, is included as part of a unit's rent, a landlord can petition the Rent Board to remove such a service. The Rent Board would determine the amount of a corresponding reduction in the rent ceiling but could not force the landlord to continue providing the service. Try to figure out a compromise with your landlord that would allow you to continue using the space and honor your neighbors' right to the peaceful enjoyment of their apartments.
Q: I have lived in my apartment since January 2014. It is a two-bedroom unit with a deck. My current landlady bought the building in 2015. Recently, she served me a "Notice of Change of Terms of Tenancy." She wants me to remove all of my plants from the deck. She claims the plants cause water to drain onto the building and that this has damaged the property. I pointed out to her that a good rainstorm results in more water on the building than my plant watering ever could, and offered to place the plants in a container. Now she says she doesn't want me to use my deck at all. Does my landlady have a right to make such demands?
Landlords in Berkeley may not unilaterally change the terms of a lease and then evict a tenant for breach of the new term. In other words, were you to continue to use the deck for its intended purpose, your landlady would not have grounds to evict you. If, however, it could be proven that you were actually damaging the building and that you did not cease the damaging activity when asked to do so, the landlady would have just cause to evict you.
Should you elect to cease using the deck at your landlady's request, you would be entitled to a rent reduction. You or your landlady may file a petition with the Rent Board to reduce the rent ceiling for the reduction in space and services. Board petitions are available at the Board's office or on the Board's website.
Q: I have a question concerning my right to have hot water. My landlord lives in the upstairs unit and controls the hot water temperature. I believe he purposefully lowers the temperature on the hot water heater in order to save money. However, I am lucky when I have enough hot water to fill the bathtub. Do I have a right to demand that he turn up the temperature?
Your landlord is obligated to provide sufficient hot water for each unit. The City of Berkeley’s Residential Rental Inspection Service can check the water temperature and may cite your landlord if it is inadequate. You can request an inspection of your unit by calling the Housing Department at (510) 981-5444.
Q: Our landlords say they are thinking about forcing us to sign a contract that says we will not drink alcohol in the house, even though most of us are over the age of legality. After we have moved in and signed our housing contracts, could we later be evicted for drinking alcohol in our own home?
Your landlords may not unilaterally change the terms of your lease to prohibit alcohol. Most leases do, however, prohibit illegal activities on the rental premises. As such, the lease probably already prohibits minors from drinking on the property.
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