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Renters protest owners

By William Inman Daily Planet Staff
Friday September 08, 2000

Rent Board member Stephanie Bernay stood with a crowd outside H’s Lordships Restaurant at the Marina and toasted the Berkeley Property Owner’s Association – celebrating inside – with a plate of Ramen noodles. The mock toast was for BPOA’s hiring a high-priced attorney to sue the rent board. 

At issue is the board’s annual rent increase – zero for units rented after Jan. 1 and a flat six dollars for all other units.  

The BPOA argues that a rent increase is needed to cover changes in operating costs –1.8 to 2.4 percent. That means an increase in rent of about $11.50 for a $571 per-month unit. 

The crowd, which included a number of UC Berkeley Students, rent board members and candidates, and City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, held a symbolic plateful of Ramen noodles wrapped in tin-foil to contrast to the invitation-only steak and salmon dinner hosted inside by the BPOA. 

The dinner was held to announce their hiring of attorney Jim Parrinello. 

Parrinello has represented both Tosco and Phillip Morris. In 1998 the attorney represented Oakland property owners Rose Ventures III, which members of the Lakeshore Tenants Association at 1200 Lakeshore Drive, sued for raising the rent 9 percent and turning a shared rooftop recreational facility into a luxury penthouse suite. 

He will be paid $50,000 to take the case on behalf of the Legal Defense fund for the BPOA. 

Jim Smith, the current membership chairperson for the BPOA and a former president of the Black Property Association, came outside to explain to reporters why the property owners are suing. 

“They will not grant a rent increase,” he said. “They should give us a reasonable percentage to keep up with inflation.” 

The sign-holding rent control supporters disagreed. 

Bernay introduced speakers at the makeshift press conference that was held next to the breezeway entrance to the restaurant. 

“How can they raise our rents any more,” she said. “They’re in there dining on filet mignon when all we can afford is Top Ramen.” 

“This is Berkeley! Justice will not be bought,” said Paul Hogarth, a November candidate for the Rent Board. Hogarth said that the property owners should run for seats on the Rent Board instead of suing. 

Max Anderson, Rent Board member up for re-election, said since 1997, rents on two-bedroom apartments have increased 51 percent, and one-bedrooms have increased by 47 percent. 

“I think its legitimate to ask, ‘how much is enough?’” he said, contending that the landlords have “pooled money for an expert on attacking poor people.” 

Smith said that the real issue is a housing shortage. 

“Rent Control doesn’t put anybody in a unit,” he said. “It’s been 20 years of rent control and it has removed thousands of units from the market.” 

Smith explained that if a landlord owned a single family home, because of rent control, he wouldn’t want to have to rent to someone who could be there for 10 years. So, many landlords have either moved into these houses or sold them to others who have moved into the units, therefore taking many homes off the rental market. 

“We all need to work together and focus on increasing the housing supply,” he said. “A larger vacancy rate is what brings rent down.” 

Nonetheless, the students bemoaned outrageous rents and Associated Students of the University of California showed solidarity in support of rent control. 

“It’s ridiculous for this attorney to be hired and we won’t tolerate it,’ said ASUC president Teddy Liaw. 

UC Berkeley sophomore Sarah Trejo, who was forced to pay a $7,000 security deposit on a $2,000 two-bedroom apartment she shares with three other UC Berkeley students said she and her roommates had to settle on it because landlords wouldn’t rent to them because there were too many of them, and they were being outbid. 

“And we had to outbid someone else to get it,” she said.