Seniors, the disabled and long-term renters in Berkeley will get protections from landlords who want to move into the apartments they are renting – if voters pass a measure in November that the City Council put on the ballot Tuesday night.
The ballot measure, which passed 5-1, with three abstentions, fixed the age for a senior at 60 and defined a long-term resident as one who has lived in a unit for five years. If a tenant is removed, the length a landlord must occupy the unit was increased to 36 months. Under the present law, landlords have to stay in a residence for only 24 months to prove that they “live” there, after evicting its former tenant.
Voting in favor of the motion was the liberal/progressive block: Vice Mayor Maudelle Shirek and Councilmembers Dona Spring, Linda Maio, Kriss Worthington and Margaret Breland. Councilmember Betty Olds voted in opposition and Mayor Shirley Dean and Councilmembers Polly Armstrong and Diane Woolley abstained.
The language was altered slightly from the proposed ballot measure to exempt owners of duplexes who have owned the property for five or more years and don’t have 10 percent ownership in any other property. But landlords may remove tenants who are protected under the measure for move-in reasons if they, or their relatives, happen to be over 60 years old or disabled.
It is hoped that the measure will combat the worst-case scenarios caused by the Costa-Hawkins Act. Passed in 1995, it allows rent to rise to market-level when a tenant moves out.
“This will protect the most vulnerable,” said Randy Silverman, chair of the city’s rent control board. “If we can stop a handful of people being forced out of their homes, and out of Berkeley, then it helps.”
Silverman estimated that the new measure will stop “a few dozen” unjust evictions a year.
As expected, the council bickered over the age limit and the level of owner protection.
Olds proposed a substitute motion that set the protected age at 65 and exempted owners of five-unit buildings who have owned the building for over five years.
“This started out as protection for seniors and the disabled,” Olds said. “Now it covers everyone.”
Silverman noted that the scope is still very small, and said that he “felt it was important to protect all long-term renters.”
“Only about 25 percent of renters in Berkeley qualify as long-term,” he said.
Olds’ measure was defeated with Dean, Armstrong, Woolley and Olds voting in favor, Shirek voting in opposition and Breland, Maio, Worthington and Spring abstaining.
Councilmember Polly Armstrong said that Olds’ proposal was “clear-cut, simple, applies to big landlords and doesn’t shut anyone out.”
“It easily protects the class of people we are trying to protect,” she said. Armstrong abstained in the vote that passed the measure.
She said that it would act as an incentive for landlords to rent to students, and short-term renters because they can raise the rent more often. Silverman said the incentive is already there because of Costa-Hawkins.
“I wish we could come up with a broader scope, but it is impossible because of Costa-Hawkins,” Silverman said.
He noted that the disparity is huge between units that are under rent control and those that aren’t. Silverman said the exemption should be limited to two-unit owners as opposed to five-unit owners to prevent investors from buying the smaller properties and jacking up the rent.