Ask the Rent Board

By Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board Staff
Thursday January 10, 2002

The Berkeley Rent Board receives more than 300 inquiries a week ranging from very specific questions about individual units, to broader questions about rent control in general. In this column we will reproduce some of the more interesting questions and answers. Our topics will include permissible rent ceilings, the effects of vacancy decontrol, permissible grounds for eviction, habitability of units, the rules concerning security deposits and other issues of interest to renters and property owners. You can e-mail the City of Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board at rent@ci. berkeley.ca.us with your questions, or you can call or visit the office at 2125 Milvia Street, Berkeley, CA. 94704 (northeast corner of Milvia/Center Streets) Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, between 9 a.m. and 4:45 p.m., and on Wednesday between noon and 4:45 p.m. Our telephone number is (510) 644-6128. Our Web site address is www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/rent/. 



I am interested in buying a house that has an in-law unit on the property. My realtor says it’s a “golden duplex” and therefore not subject to rent control. What exactly is a golden duplex and why would it not be under rent control? 



First, for Rent Board purposes, a duplex is any two-unit property. Some duplexes are exempt from rent control, or “golden,” while others are not. A duplex is exempt from rent control if an owner lived in one of the units as his or her principal residence on Dec. 31, 1979 and an owner currently occupies one of the units as his or her principal residence (it need not be the same owner). “Owner” in this context means an owner of record with at least a 50 percent interest in the property.  

The rationale for this exemption from rent control is the belief that an owner who shares a small property with a tenant will have a more familial relationship with his tenant and, therefore, there is less need for external rules to protect the tenant from unwarranted rent increases.  

So, why aren’t all owner-occupied duplexes exempt? The exemption is limited to two-unit properties that were owner-occupied on Dec. 31, 1979 to protect tenants living in non-owner-occupied duplexes. If any duplex would become exempt by virtue of an owner residing on site, it is likely that every duplex in Berkeley would eventually be owner-occupied because of the financial benefit that comes with owning a rental unit with an unregulated rent. Such a broad exemption would effectively remove a significant number of units from the rental market and displace hundreds of renters. Therefore, to preserve the composition of the rental market, the exemption is limited to current owner-occupied duplexes that were owner-occupied at the beginning of rent control.  



I moved into a house with three other roommates two years ago. We each paid one roommate $500 for the security deposit, and he, in turn, paid the landlord $2,000. Now I am moving out and I want my security deposit back, but our landlord says he doesn’t have to return it until my roommates move out. Is that correct? 



Yes. According to Rent Board Regulation 706, a landlord is not required to refund any portion of a security deposit until he has recovered possession of the unit, i.e., until the unit is vacant. Because there is no telling when the unit will be vacant, especially if roommates are replaced as each one moves out, you should ask for your share of the security deposit from the remaining tenants or from your replacement, if there is one.