Ask the Rent Board

By Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board Staff
Friday May 03, 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/. 




My lease says I can have overnight guests for up to 10 days a year. My girlfriend stays over about twice a week, and the manager of my building has been giving me a hard time about that and about other friends who come over. Don’t I have a right to have visitors whenever I want? 



Not necessarily. A landlord has a right to establish the occupancy level of a unit, and having frequent overnight guests increases the wear and tear on the unit. Therefore, the landlord has the right to restrict the number of overnight stays, and a limit of 10 times a year is probably legal. If your landlord believes that you are violating the lease by exceeding the allowable number of overnight guest stays, he or she can issue a written notice to stop; and if you continue, the landlord may have grounds to evict you.  

As for visitors who don’t spend the night, the landlord cannot limit the frequency of visits, as long as your visitors do not disturb other tenants. 




My lease includes a $20 a day late fee for rent paid after the first of the month. Last month I was 3 days late paying rent, and my landlord says I owe him an additional $60. Is this legal? Isn’t there at least some sort of grace period? 



A late fee may be charged as long as it does not exceed the reasonable costs the landlord incurs by your tardiness, such as lost interest and the cost of processing a late payment. A $60 late fee for a payment that is three days late is probably excessive. A late charge such as yours that increases daily should be more in the range of, say, $5 a day, with an upper limit of about 4 to 6 percent of the total rent. Sometimes a late charge is a flat fee, usually around $20 to $25, depending on the amount of rent. Grace periods from one to five days are common, but not required, so a landlord may legitimately impose a late fee for rent that is one day past due.  

If you think your late charge is excessive, ask the landlord to justify it or lower it. If you choose not to pay all or part of it, he can take you to small claims court and a judge will decide its validity.