Drayage Tenants Hit With Eviction Notices By MATTHEW ARTZ

Friday July 01, 2005

Now into its fourth month, the tenant-landlord standoff at an illegal West Berkeley warehouse appears to be heading for court. 

Last Friday, Lawrence White, owner of the East Bay Drayage Warehouse, tacked 60-day eviction notices to the doors of 11 tenants, most of whom are artisans who have refused to leave their homes. The building has been labeled “an extreme fire hazard” by Berkeley’s Fire Marshall David Orth. 

Maresa Danielsen, a tenant, said it was “unlikely” the tenants would leave voluntarily, setting the stage for an eviction trial in the fall. 

The tenants are hoping that by staying put they can pressure White, whom the city is fining $2,500 a day for code violations, to sell the property to the Northern California Land Trust. The non-profit developer has secured financing for the project and pledged to renovate the warehouse and sell the units to the tenants. 

“If Dr. White sold to the land trust we’d leave tomorrow and he could save thousands in fines,” Danielsen said. 

But negotiations between White and the land trust have stalled for a second time, according to Land Trust Executive Director Ian Winters. Earlier this month, White rejected a $2.5 million offer on the property, Winters said. 

White, who most recently valued the property at Addison and Third streets at $2.7 million, had originally agreed to sell the property to local developer Ali Kashani for $2.05 million. But when Kashani learned of the illegal units he pulled out of the deal. Shortly thereafter city officials arrived for a spot inspection that turned up over 200 code violations. 

White issued the eviction notices one day after Berkeley’s Planning Department granted him permits to demolish the two dozen illegal dwelling units in the warehouse. The permits, issued ostensibly to allow White to bring the building up to code, give him “good cause” under the Berkeley rent laws to evict tenants. 

Should the tenants refuse to leave at the conclusion of the 60 days, on Aug. 23, White could then take them to court, a process that would likely take several months. If the ruling is in White’s favor, he could then petition a judge to send in county sheriff’s deputies to forcibly evict tenants. 

“We’re looking at legal strategies to fight the eviction,” said Jeffrey Carter, the tenant’s legal advisor. 

By refusing to follow an April 15 evacuation order issued from the fire marshall, the remaining tenants have drawn attention to the loss of unique space in West Berkeley as rents climb and new developments are built. 

“We feel like our home is the most interesting and most affordable this area could ever have,” Danielsen said.  

Last week the council passed a resolution to consider giving tenants a portion of the fines levied against White. However, White said from his office Thursday that he would contest the fines, and Carter questioned whether the city would recoup the roughly $150,000 in fines already levied against the landlord. 

“I’m hard pressed to imagine that Dr. White will pony up a lot of money to pay the tenants,” he said.