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Residents fight eviction

By John Geluardi Daily Planet Staff
Friday February 23, 2001

As rents continue to rise making Berkeley affordable for financially exclusive renters, book store employee Sarah Glickstein, 62, and four others are being evicted from their longtime homes under the Ellis Act. 

Each morning for 12 years Glickstein has left her modest studio in a two-story building on a tree-lined section of Berkeley Way to walk the 10 blocks to her job at Black Oak Books where she works at the front desk. Glickstein doesn’t own a car and worries about how she’ll get to work if she cannot find affordable housing in Berkeley. “I’ve been offered places to stay, but none that I can afford,” she said. “I don’t make very much.” 

On Oct. 23, 2000, property owner John Jordon served the five tenants with eviction notices. The units are considered by state law to be off the rental market 120 days after tenants receive the notices, which in the case of Glickstein, and the other tenants of 1829 Berkeley Way, is today. 

The evictions have prompted the City Council to consider additional tenant protection laws. 

Lawrence Hayes, a renter for 11 years, said the tenants have retained Berkeley tenants’ rights attorney Tim Rumberger and have decided to attempt to negotiate with Jordon for a fair move-out payment. If that fails they will fight the eviction in court. 

Jordon is evicting the tenants under the Ellis Act, a controversial state law that allows landlords to take rental properties off the market provided they comply with a series of restrictions, including the requirement of re-renting the units to evicted tenants before putting the units on the open market. Landlords are also required to pay tenants who can demonstrate they are low-income a $4,500 moving fee. 

Rumberger said the law is abused by landlords who simply want to get longtime tenants out so they can raise the rents to increase property values. 

Tuesday, the City Council approved a recommendation requesting the city attorney draft an ordinance to protect tenants who are being evicted under the Ellis Act. Councilmembers Dona Spring and Linda Maio were prompted by the Berkeley Way eviction to submit the proposal. The council approved the proposal by a 8-0-1 vote with Councilmember Betty Olds abstaining. 

Spring and Maio would like to see landlords required to offer vacant units in other properties they own to tenants they evict under the Ellis Act. They have also asked the city attorney to determine if the city can require landlords to own a property for three to five years before they use the Ellis Act as an eviction tool. 

“I really hope we can get the mandatory three to five year restriction in order to stop speculators from buying these properties and using the Ellis Act to kick everyone out,” Spring said. 

Jordon, who insisted he is not a developer but declined to say what his profession is, said he wanted to move into the seven units on the property with his family. He said when he discovered Berkeley wouldn’t allow him to evict the tenants under owner move-in option, he was forced to use the Ellis Act to evict the tenants so he could sell the building and recuperate his losses. 

A separate building in the back of the property has three units that are currently unoccupied. 

According to Olds, there were five buildings with a total of 15 units taken off the market last year. She said the number of units removed from the market was average and didn’t indicate a serious problem. 

If the city is able to enact the extra tenant protections, it will probably not come in time to help Glickstein, who has lived in her studio unit for 20 years, or the other four tenants in her building. 

Ken Hayes, an actor who has lived the building for 12 years, said he has been unsettled since receiving the eviction notice.  

“I was very frightened at first,” he said. “The climate has changed so much, I won’t be able to find another place in Berkeley.” 

Hayes said he will do what he can to fight the eviction as a matter of principle. “There has been constant harassment since Jordon bought the property last June,” he said. 

Hayes said he has received as many as 30 notices from Jordon asking for access to his apartment for repairs. “He would either not show up or he would walk through with his girlfriend or his kids and not do any work,” Hayes said. 

Jordon said he has gone out of his way not to bother the tenants while making mandatory repairs to the building. 

“There were major roof leaks and the building hadn’t been painted in 30 years,” he said. “When I bought the property a housing inspector gave me a list of work that had to be done and it had to be done while the tenants were occupying the units.” 

Glickstein said Jordon did fix the roof and her ceiling isn’t leaking for the first time in 10 years. “I wish he was doing it for our sake but he’s not,” she said. 

Kris Eggen, who does accessibility work for an architecture firm, has lived the property for 29 years. He said Jordon has undertaken repairs on the building but only the minimum required by the city in order to serve the eviction notices.  

“The Berkeley Municipal Code requires a standard of habitability in order to evict tenants,” he said. “Our opinion is the manner in which he chose to do the repairs was very disruptive.” 

Jordon said that the atmosphere in Berkeley is harsh for landlords and creates animosity between owners and tenants. “It’s an odd system for a city that has such a shortage of housing,” he said. 

Glickstein said she tries to put the pending eviction out of her mind so she can carry on with her daily life. “This whole thing is so terrifying the only way I can deal with it is by being optimistic,” she said.