Ben Weintraub and Michael Liu became poster guys for the Measure Y campaign Monday afternoon.
Standing in front of an apartment from which they were asked to leave, the duo explained to the press that the eviction would not happen under the proposed Measure Y.
Measure Y protects seniors and the disabled against owner move-in evictions, provides $4,500 to low income renters who are displaced and guarantees renters a comparable rental unit if one is available.
Weintraub, Liu and a third roommate rented the two-bedroom apartment at 1404 Fulton for $1,371 in June 1998.
The building was sold and on June 14, 1999, a year after they had moved in, they got a certified letter from Peter Kutrubes, attorney for landlords Grace Chizar and Michael Lai, telling them that “Mr. Lai desires to take back your apartment, Unit 308, to make it his own personal residence.” Attached was a 30-day notice.
The three UC Berkeley students were offered a one-bedroom apartment in the same building for $1,400 per month.
Instead, they found an apartment on Haste Street for $500 more rent than they had been paying and moved in. Liu and Weintraub said they do not believe that Lai lives in the apartment, since he is seen daily leaving a Haste Street apartment building that he also owns.
Neither Lai nor Chizar, responded to calls for comment.
There’s more to the story than a fraudulent owner move-in eviction,Weintraub and Liu said, flanked by advocates for Measure Y and pro-rent-control candidates for the Rent Stabilization Board.
Under Measure Y, large landlords would not be permitted to evict tenants and move into the unit, if there are other comparable units available. If there are non-comparable units available, they need to offer one to the tenants. The fair rent would be determined by the rent board.
“If the landlord owns another available unit, the tenant has the right of first refusal,” said Paul Hogarth, a candidate for the Rent Board.
Hogarth said the students’ eviction may have been legal, if, in fact, a relative of one of the owners moved into the unit. The identity of the person who moved into the unit has not been determined.
“It’s possible that it might have been legal, but it’s unfair,” he said. “Measure Y stops the legal loopholes that exist.”
Berkeley Property Owners Association President Robert Cabrera takes a different view. He says that if, in fact, the owner move-in eviction was fraudulent, then the renters should have taken the landlord to court. He points to a San Francisco Bay Guardian story that tells of a $500,000 settlement tenants in San Francisco won against such a landlord.
“There exist legal remedies that have teeth,” he said.
Cabrera has been working hard against Measure Y and says, if passed, it will hurt those it seeks to protect. He talks about a studio apartment he just rented for $1,000. He said he had his choice among dot-comers, students and others to rent to.
With this kind of choice, landlords will not choose to rent to seniors and disabled, who would gain protection under the measure, he said.
“Measure Y greases the skids for discrimination,” he said. “All you’ll get is a transient population in Berkeley.”