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Tenants’ Rights Week offers answers

By John GeluardiDaily Planet Correspondent
Wednesday October 25, 2000

What does a renter do when the toilet doesn’t work, the roof leaks and the landlord refuses to return the security deposit?  

It’s Tenants’ Rights Week on the UC Berkeley campus and answers were dispensed Tuesday at a booth in Sproul Plaza, where five volunteer students talked to a steady stream of renters who are having landlord trouble and are uncertain about their rights. 

The students are volunteers with UC Berkeley’s Renters’ Legal Assistance, an organization formed in 1998 to help tenants – especially students who make up about 30 percent of Berkeley residents – understand their options.  

“Student tenants come from other states, they’re often renting for the first time and they can be naive,” said Carlos Rios, a housing counselor with the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board the cosponsor of Tenants’ Rights Week. “Our effort is to make sure they are an informed body so they can conduct their business properly.” 

Two members of the Berkeley Property Owners Association heard about the event and set up a booth right next to Tenants’ Rights Tuesday morning. Claude Zamanian and Robert Englund handed out leaflets and cookies. However, since they are not students and did not have a permit, campus police asked them to fold up the table and chairs. Police allowed them to continue displaying a placard and handing out literature and cookies, however. 

“We are just here to present the landlords’ point of view,” Zamanian said.  

According to one of their fliers, property owners claim strict rent control creates a housing shortage and fewer controls means more rental space for students. Property owners argue that low rent created under rent control makes tenants unlikely to move. In one flier a landlord was quoted as saying: “I’d love to house the class of 2000, but I’m still housing the class of ’79.”  

The students are holding counseling sessions all week in Sproul Plaza from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday’s theme was “All About Security Deposits.” Tenants are often unsure of their rights when it comes to retrieving security deposits and landlords sometimes take advantage, organizers said. 

For example many tenants don’t know landlords are required to pay interest on security deposits in either rent rebates or cash payments, they said. Upon request they are also required to provide bank statements detailing the time during which the interest was earned and the amount of interest paid. 

“The other problem is landlords withholding a large percentage of deposits for repairs that were existing when the tenant moved in,” said Kim Encianas, a student volunteer with Renters’ Legal Assistance. 

Tenants are advised to take pictures of as much of dwelling as possible both when they move in and when they move out. 

Today’s theme is “How to Get Repairs Done.” The counselors will offer information about what steps to take when the landlord refuses to fix common problems such as heating problems, roof leaks and broken faucets. 

Eileen Lau, a UC student who pays $700 a month for a small room in a rooming house, was glad to get some definitive answers to her landlord problems. “The upstairs bathroom hasn’t worked in months and he refuses to fix it although it doesn’t stop him from charging exorbitant rent,” she said.  

Zamanian said landlords who aren’t getting what they deem to be a fair rent for apartments are sometimes not motivated to fix problems. “Landlords often feel like they’re not getting a fair return on their investment and are not so motivated to fix problems.” he said.  

He pointed out that last year the city allowed landlords to raise rents only $6 per month per unit and this year they could raise rents by $10. 

On Monday the counselors held a workshop called “How to Handle Problems With Your Roommate.” There is little legal recourse with these issues, but counselors offered advice on how to avoid common problems like paying utilities, loud music and dirty dishes.  

Thursday’s topic is “What is Rent Control and Friday’s is “How to Break Your Lease.” Though the various days have specific themes, counselors said they are happy to answer any housing questions the public might have. 

Encianas said that often tenants know their rights are being violated but have to get verification and also advice about how to proceed. “A lot of times they know the answers they just have to hear it from somebody.” 

There will be a public hearing on rent issues tomorrow on campus at the Associated Students’ Senate Chambers at 5:30 p.m.  

For more information about housing issues you can contact the Rent Stabilization Board at (510) 644-6128 or visit their web site at or contact the Berkeley Property Owners Association at 525-3666.