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Red Alert!

The City of Berkeley
just sent a
Sewer Rate Increase Notice
If You Throw it out,
You have Just voted:

Send in that Protest Form!  Do it ASAP! It must reach City Hall by the end of the month

Next Members Meeting

Saturday Morning, June 6th, 2015

Housing Hoarders
the Challenges, the Dangers
and Possible Solutions
with Jeff Buell and Attorney Michael Sims

Refreshments: 930am   Meeting:10am Sharp

St. Johns Presbyterian Church
2727 College Avenue
in Berkeley, 94705.

See the Event Calendar for Details


Enabling Gentrification

President's Report


I recently had a long sit down with Wayne Roland, who is the President of the California Rental Housing Association and happens to be African American, Berkeley-raised and a resident of Oakland. It was an illuminating conversation. He explained to me why rent control is actually the reason for gentrification, in direct contradiction of one of its main purposes which is to maintain the diversity of the community.

He explained to me how (as housing policy) the combination of rent control and eviction restrictions actually advances gentrification. In our discussion two key points stood out.

First, rent control?s below market rents are not evenly distributed throughout the community but instead are enjoyed almost exclusively by individuals whose job circumstances are exceedingly stable such that they are able to remain in the same apartment for several years. People who move from time to time are disfavored from these long term benefits and are essentially out of luck.

Second, as vacancies become available, because of the excessive cost of terminating tenancies under eviction restrictions, property owners are chilled from taking risks in tenant selection that may result in having to terminate a tenancy. As a consequence, prospective tenants with the highest credit scores and incomes become favored over all other applicants. People with scuffed credit or lower incomes become disfavored and virtually lose their access to this rental market.

The fact that individuals with lower incomes and credit scores lose access to this rental market closely relates to something else that has been happening in Berkeley since the imposition of rent control?eviction restrictions. Berkeley has been losing its diversity. It would seem that this housing policy is having a disparate impact on the housing needs of African Americans. And the evidence is in the demographics.

The numbers are simple; since the institution of rent control, the proportion of African Americans dropped from 20% to 13.6% (1980-2000). During the last census (2010) the number dropped further to 10%. During the same 30 year period the number of Hispanics rose from 5% to 10.8% and Asians rose 10% to 19.1%.

The solution that rent control zealots may proffer at this point is that as a result we simply need more affordable housing. But rent control housing providers, like most members of BPOA, are providing affordable housing. Even Mayor Ed Lee and the champion of rent control in Sacramento State Senator Mark Leno as late as last week called rent controlled housing the City?s most precious affordable housing. Who provides that? We do.

Then the theory goes if it is the most precious affordable housing, why was it then that virtually none of this precious affordable housing built between 1980 and 2000 (same time period as strict control or said another way, when there was no vacancy decontrol) in the City of Berkeley? It was because rent control made it unaffordable to build. So now we are truly feeling the effects of that. (Notice how building is rampant now in Berkeley when there is vacancy decontrol).

There is no disagreement that the housing crisis that exists today is because we under-built. In fact the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) issued a report this week saying as much. Each city was assigned a housing target between the years 2007 and 2014 by ABAG so that the problem that existed at the time would not get worse. Already the problem was pin-pointed as a decades long construction shortfall. There was already no hope that the situation could get better in 2006 when the targets were issued. They just didn?t want it to get worse.

Guess what? All major cities, including Berkeley, didn?t achieve even 50% of their goals. Yes there are a number of reasons for that. So, if we can?t build to solve the problem, how about this, Berkeley?

How about you let owners of rent controlled housing create new housing, whether it be by adding on to their buildings or making units more accommodating to higher density (hello mini-dorm ordinance) or somehow help us to provide housing to more people.

But notice how the rent board goes to zoning and planning hearings and fights tooth and nail to keep one extra unit as rent controlled when the destruction of that one unit may create 4 more units.

It is the same logic applied here that was applied when the Mayor rolled out his plan to allow accessory dwelling units. It was met with much praise and applause. Maybe we as owners of rent controlled housing can help also. But the first step has to be keeping the rent control zealots out of the picture. I am not saying don?t worry about displaced tenants, but perhaps a trade off isn?t bad. I am sure there are many other people out there who can come up with more creative and palatable solutions.

Ultimately I think the tone of the conversation needs to change from "let's figure out a way to punish our affordable housing providers" to "'how can we help them help the community as a whole.?".


April 2015

Notes from Michael St. John

In a word, it’s a bad idea, to be avoided if possible. The landlord-tenant rules here in Berkeley are so strongly pro-tenant, so consistently one-sided, that arguments with tenants don’t usually work out well for property owners. There are a thousand ways in which angry, hostile tenants can make our lives miserable when they want to. It is better by far to go the second mile, attempting to work something out with your tenant. A little time, a little expense, and some empathic listening can save you thousands of dollars, untold hours, and buckets of grief.

Being “right” about something doesn’t automatically make it right to say no to tenants. We may have no obligation under law to accommodate to tenants’ wishes, but refusing to accommodate may be far more expensive in the end than being accommodating.

This does not mean that we should always give in to demanding tenants. There are tenants who make outrageous demands and who break the rules with impunity. There are tenants who seem to want to be in conflict with the property owner. In some cases there is a projection of “bad parent” onto “bad landlord”. Sometimes it seems that we cannot satisfy some tenants no matter what we say or do.

In these cases, my prescription is sticking kindly but firmly to the rules—not allowing such tenants to transgress while at the same time being very careful not to transgress ourselves. With assertive-combative tenants it is important that we stick to the rules precisely. If we are sloppy about adherence to the rules, these sorts of tenants will feel justified in ignoring the rules themselves.

Almost always our attitude impacts the outcome as much as what we do or don’t do. I have found at Rent Board hearings that the bottom line of a dispute is often that the tenant feels disrespected, brushed aside, or undervalued. When tenants feel respected, included, and valued, they most often will act reasonably, even when we find ourselves unable to do what they are asking. Speaking respectfully with tenants is cost-effective. Speaking disrespectfully or dismissively can be very, very expensive.

The philosophy of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) helps here. NVC teaches us to be empathic with people we might be in dispute with, even when they are speaking or acting in ways we don’t prefer. Tenants are people, and things work out better when we treat people empathically. That doesn’t always mean that we have to do what they are asking. We can say no if no is appropriate. What impacts the outcome is how we say no. If we say no thoughtfully and respectfully, at the same time acknowledging our tenants’ feelings and needs, we stand a better chance of emerging from the encounter unscathed.

NVC recognizes that we all share the same universal needs. This being so, it is almost always possible to discern the needs behind tenant behaviors or statements. If we acknowledge the needs, things generally work out better, even when it is not possible for us to do exactly what a tenant may want us to do. We may even discover that our needs are not that different from our tenants’ needs.

An example: A rent controlled tenant wanted her landlord to provide a parking space for her new car. The owner didn’t want to rent her a space because she was paying less than half of the market rent for her unit. The owner therefore said no, hoping that this might cause the tenant to vacate the unit. When the tenant protested that there was a space available and that she was “next in line” to receive a space, the owner, not knowing what to say, didn’t respond. Instead, he rented the available space to someone living in the building across the street for $50 a month.

The tenant, furious, went to the Rent Board, then to Planning. At the Rent Board she learned that the previous owner had provided parking to a previous tenant at the beginning of rent control, in 1980. At Planning, she learned that the parking spaces are required to be there for the residents of the building, not for others. The tenant filed a petition with the Rent Board and a complaint with Planning. Fast forward 8 months and better than $5,000 in consulting and legal fees, the owner promised to give her a space the next time a space came vacant.

There are several alternatives that might have worked out better in this situation. For one, the owner might have offered his tenant a space under a separate agreement for $100 a month. The tenant might have accepted that, given that the apartment rent was far below market. Another alternative might be that the owner acknowledge her need for a parking space, explain that he needed to reserve the empty space for a market rate tenant or for the handyman, and brainstorm with her about other alternatives. He might have offered to pay the yearly fee for a parking sticker for street parking, for example. Most important, he might have acknowledged her need for a parking space and explained carefully that he needed to allocate the available spaces for the benefit of all residents and management.

NVC cannot solve every practical situation, but NVC can help reduce conflict. Everyone likes to be treated with respect. Everyone likes compassionate communication. Communication plus flexibility can go a long way to preventing disputes that can build into conflicts that make property ownership disagreeable and that—too often, especially in Berkeley—don’t turn out well for property owners. By employing forbearance, clear communication, and flexibility, property owners can prevent most tenant-conflict disasters and encourage peaceful landlord-tenant relationships—even with conflict-prone tenants.

The New Non-Smoking Brochure and
Lease addendum are available
online for members in our  
Forms Library

If you are not a member yet and would like to see a list of BPOA-maintained forms along with brief descriptions, you can do so here.

Too Much Stuff?
Some Tips on Helping Tenants
Who Hoard

Low Income Landlords? 
Find Eviction Help Here

....(and the League of Women Voters Agree!)

 Click for the full report:

It begins on page 63 and runs to page 74.


The Report concludes with the following recommendations:

  •  Recommendation 12-10:
    The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board must reduce the high rental unit registration fees.
  • Recommendation 12-11:
    The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board must allow landlords to pass through a larger proportion of the registration fee to tenants.
  • Recommendation 12-12:
    The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board must ask the city of Berkeley Human Resources Department for a thorough position-control audit to evaluate the number of staff, the classifications and workload.
  • Recommendation 12-13:
    The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board must ask the city Human Resources department to provide more comprehensive salary comparisons regularly and use them in setting salaries and benefits, including those of the executive director and the board members.
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