California law sets a maximum fee that can be charged to apply for rental housing (currently $42.41) and requires that the fee only covers the direct cost of the screening. It also requires an itemized receipt and a refund on any unused portion of the fee. Councilmember Jesse Arreguín is proposing a new city ordinance tonight which would require rental applicants receive a copy of the state tenant screening fee law when paying an application fee.
“I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a tenant who has received a receipt as the law requires,” said Arreguín. “Landlords sometimes accept fees even though they have already decided who they will rent to. Information is power and it’s important that people know what the rights are of landlords and tenants.”
Arreguín believes the state law is ineffective because of both a lack of knowledge and the lack of a penalty for non-compliance. The city ordinance proposes a
$500 penalty$250 penalty if the property owner fails to comply with the disclosure requirements. Arreguín drew up the ordinance with the City Manager’s Office, the City Attorney and the Rent Stabilization Program. It would require no city staff or city funds for implementation, according to Arreguín.
“It’s just a gesture,” said Albert Sukoff, a Berkeley property owner. “Few if any property owners are behaving illegally now. Those that are scofflaws will continue to be. It’s not going to hurt the rest of us, it’s just a pain in the neck. We get stuck with extra paperwork.”
Update 11:50 a.m. Anthony Sánchez, chief of staff to Arreguín, told Berkeleyside that a meeting between Arreguín and the Berkeley Property Owners Association yesterday resulted in some amendments to the proposal. The penalty is reduced from $500 to $250, and there is an option to have the fee disclosure incorporated into the rental agreement, rather than as a separate disclosure. This afternoon the BPOA will decide whether to support the amended proposal.