Ask the Rent Board

Friday June 21, 2002

Q: I moved into my one-bedroom apartment a year ago and have been paying $1300 in rent. I’m about to renew my lease for $1300 again, but I learned that my landlord has just rented the apartment next to mine, which is virtually identical in size and amenities, for $1050. Is there any way I can lower my rent? 


A: If your lease is up, you stand a good chance of negotiating a lower rent with your landlord. Ask your landlord to lower your rent to $1050, which seems to be the current market rate. If she refuses, and you don’t want to stay on at $1300, you can give 30 days’ notice and find a cheaper place. If she agrees, you should sign a lease to lock in the lower amount for the term of the lease, because the maximum rent allowed under the Rent Ordinance will remain $1300. Therefore, on a month-to-month agreement, even if the rent is $1050 initially, your landlord could increase the rent to up to $1300 at any time on 30 days’ written notice. 



Q: My landlord told me the City of Berkeley requires him to come in and inspect my apartment every year. Is this true?  


A: Probably. The Rental Housing Safety Program (RHSP), run by the City’s Housing Department, was established last July. It requires owners of most rental properties to inspect their units and submit a completed Owner Certification Checklist each year; the first is due by July 1, 2002. As with any inspection, the landlord must give "reasonable" notice, presumed to be at least 24 hours, before entering.  

Among the units exempt from the certification process are Section 8 units and units constructed within the past five years. Also, if a unit is inspected by a City housing inspector on or after January 1, 2001, and is cleared of all violations, the unit is exempt from certification for three years. 

The RHSP is designed to help prevent deaths, injuries, and illness from unsafe housing conditions. Thus, owners must certify that their units meet certain safety standards, such as having a smoke detector, correct locks, operable windows, proper electrical wiring, working heating systems and appliances, and unobstructed exits.  

Tenants also have responsibilities: they must not alter the property in a way that creates safety hazards and must be mindful of potential hazards. Tenants should review the owner’s certification (which the owners must give the tenant), and tenants who do not receive a copy or do not agree with the certification should notify the Housing Department. A tenant who believes at any time that health or safety code violations exist shouldn’t wait for the owner’s inspection for certification, but should notify the landlord right away, preferably in writing. If the landlord takes no action, the tenant should request an inspection from the Housing Department’s Code Enforcement staff. 


For more information and copies of the certification forms, visit the RHSP Web site: www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/ 

housing/rhsp or call 981-5445. 

You can e-mail the City of Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board at rent@ci.berkeley.ca.us for individual 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 12:00 noon and 6:30 p.m. Our telephone number is (510) 644-6128. Our Web site address is www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/rent.