Jay Kelekian, who in 1994 helped lead the city’s fight against the end of statewide rent control, was named executive director of the city’s rent board last week.
Most recently a management analyst for the city’s Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department, Kelekian accepted a three-year contract to head the board which mediates conflict between landlords and tenants. He starts the job in October.
Kelekian, a rent control advocate, was selected by a majority of pro-tenant rent board commissioners, despite landlord disappointment with Kelekian.
“The impression we got was that he wasn’t very interested in our concerns,” said Robert Englund of the Berkeley Property Owners Association, which participated in the interview process.
The rent board is overseen by nine publically elected commissioners and was constituted in 1980 to decide how much landlords can raise rent each year, to enforce rent control laws and to settle housing disputes.
During the board’s first 15 years, tenant and landlord advocates battled for control of the board.
However, after passage of the state Costa-Hawkins Act gave more power to landlords, public sentiment turned against them and pro-tenant advocates dominated the board.
“The image most small property owners have of the rent board is that they are there to punish us,” said Englund.
The commissioners sit as an appeals jury on disputes between landlords and tenants. Landlords say that some rent board decisions are so unabashedly pro-tenant that landlords have appealed rent board decisions to Alameda County Superior Court.
Tenant rights advocates, however, counter that landlords have abused their Costa-Hawkins privileges. They add that the landlords’ victory in the state legislature requires the rent board to take an activist position to protect the rights of Berkeley tenants.
Kelekian said he does not want to become bogged down in housing politics.
“My goal will be to provide all of the board members with accountable and fair information and see that the laws are administered in an unbiased way,” he said.
The executive director position is primarily managerial, but Kelekian will still have authority to impact policy. He will be responsible for the hiring of hearing examiners who serve as trial judges in disputes between tenants and landlords, as well as for working with rent board commissioners to set policy goals.
Kelekian said that to deal with the increase of evictions since the end of rent control, the rent board should place greater emphasis on tenant outreach and eviction monitoring.
Rent Board commissioners were divided on a new director. After interviewing five candidates, they decided to negotiate a contract with Kelekian by a vote of 5-4.
The narrow margin highlights the split on the board between those who want to forcefully push tenant’s interests and those who fear that taking too strident a pro-tenant approach could embroil the rent board in unnecessary litigation with landlords.
Kelekian’s base of support came from the activist wing of the rent board, although the entire board supported his candidacy after it was evident that he had enough support to be offered the position.
Kelekian is no stranger to the rent board. From 1984 to 1994, he worked for the board in several capacities, and has worked as a management analyst for various city departments during the last 18 years.
He says his familiarity with city government should help him at the rent board.
“I hope my experience will allow me to facilitate even closer ties with other departments to create stable affordable and habitable homes,” he said.