Message to renters and landlords: you have rights

A condo to rent near Lake Merritt. Photo: Kim Weisberg.

Berkeleyside contributing writer Kim Weisberg has been chronicling her search for a new home on Berkeleyside, reporting on lessons learned and listing scams, among other things. Recently she found a condo she and her partner loved in the Adam’s Point neighborhood of Lake Merritt and signed a rental agreement. Before they moved in, however, there was the little matter of settling a dispute with their Berkeley landlord.

Berkeley (like many university-oriented cities) has a reputation for an over-abundance of “slumlords”, but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer in silence. In our case, we were dealing with a landlord who was extremely negligent in making repairs. We had a leaky window that led to standing water and mold, burst pipes being held with duct tape (his “fix,” not ours), and broken tiles on the floor. After months of pleading for repairs and being ignored, we finally took the advice of a friend and called a pro bono renters’ advocacy agency, who filed the proper paperwork and liaised with both our landlord and the Berkeley Housing Board until we had a resolution.

I have been wanting to write about the experience, but until the dispute was resolved, I was unable to comment. Now that we have settled, and are on the other end looking back, I want to send a little message out there to all you Berkeley renters (and landlords): you have rights.

The Berkeley Housing Board is a fantastic resource for Berkeley residents, but they are particularly helpful when it comes to tenants’ rights (ed note: see note below). Like many other Berkeley renters, I used to consider myself lucky if I found an affordable apartment that wasn’t a total dump. I didn’t realize that I had a right to insist upon such things as timely repairs and proper notice before entry.

There are many resources, mostly free of charge, that I have learned about over the past few months, and because I know how helpful they were to me, I wanted to share them with you.  Please feel free to share any other resources you might have!

  • The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Program Pretty much home-base for Berkeley housing. They have sections devoted to tenants and owners, copies of relevant forms (did you know that you can now file your own Rent Ceiling Stabilization Correction Notice online?), and information on city-wide programs. (ed note: see note below)
  • Cal Tenant Law Legal advice by attorney Ken Carlson , specializing for more than 25 years in landlord-tenant law on California renters’ rights. I found this website very useful for providing easy-to-understand information on California State tenant/landlord law.  He provides simple explanations to the often complicated legalese.
  • CA State Dept of Consumer Affairs Landlord/tenant-based publications, including the printable Cal Tenant Guide, an exhaustive and very useful resource that includes information on getting help from a third party (pages 91-99 contain a list of local agencies).  If you don’t want to print the 124-page guide, you can have up to five copies mailed to you free of charge.

Whether you are a tenant who feels mistreated by a negligent landlord, or a landlord seeking protection from an unruly tenant, there are people out there whose job it is to help. Do yourself a favor and take advantage of their services.

Oh, and needless to say, this will be the last in my house-hunting series. Our new place has nearly everything from our crazy wish list, and even a few things we hadn’t admitted to wanting (wood-burning fireplace, garbage disposal, dishwasher).  I’m glad we could afford to be patient and wait for the right place to come along — moving will be well worth the wait.

Best of luck to all you renters out there!

Ed Note: I have just received some clarification from a representative at the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board regarding some links above. The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Program is the agency that provides rent regulation and eviction protections for landlords and tenants in non-subsidized units. Incidentally, the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Program is not a pro-bono advocacy agency; it is a city government agency that assists all tenants/landlords whose rental units come under the jurisdiction of the Berkeley Rent Ordinance. The Berkeley Housing Authority…assists only tenants who are receiving a voucher through the Section 8 program run through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban and Development.I apologize for any confusion or miscommunication on my part. For now, I have removed links to their websites, and will update this post with more information as it becomes available to me.

Ed Note part 2:   Allison from the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Program has provided the following information – please accept my apologies for the misunderstanding.  The great thing about reader and community feedback is being able to quickly provide updates and clarification!

“Thanks for your message.  The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Program is a totally separate agency from the Berkeley Housing Authority.  Their names are similar (which I am sure leads to some confusion!), but their aims are distinct:

1)       The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Program is the agency that helped [Kim].    We provide rent regulation/eviction protections/mediation services for all tenants covered by the Ordinance.  These tenants are generally “just your average renters” like [Kim], as you say.  The link should direct readers to the Berkeley Rent Board’s home page at www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/rent/ (note from Kim: the link has been updated)

2)      The Berkeley Housing Authority – again, totally separate from us – helps only tenants with Section 8 vouchers.  This agency did not assist [Kim].

Again, I apologize for the confusion, and I’m very thankful to Allison for clearing up the misconception!  Many thanks!