Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Board reports that the number of owner move-in eviction notices filed with the city more than doubled between July 2013 and June 2016, compared to July 2010 to June 2013. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Board reports that the number of owner move-in eviction notices filed with the city more than doubled between July 2013 and June 2016, compared to July 2010 to June 2013. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

Owner move-in evictions are increasing in Berkeley for renters of single family houses and duplexes, largely a result of skyrocketing rents and home prices both in the city and throughout the Bay Area.

A new report concludes that the number of owner move-in eviction notices filed with the city more than doubled between July 2013 and June 2016, compared to July 2010 to June 2013, with, respectively, 73 and 31 notices filed with the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board. An owner move-in eviction is defined as an eviction where an owner seeks to recover possession of a unit for an owner or relative to move in.

The figures were included in the rent board’s recently released combined Measure Y/AA eviction tracking report, its first since voters approved Measure AA in November 2016 to mitigate the financial impact on residents being evicted from rented homes.

Measure AA tightened regulations and raised the fees landlords are required to pay their evicted tenants, which had not increased since voters approved Measure Y in the year 2000. The fees are intended to help cover moving costs, new security deposits, and first- and last-month’s rent for a new place to live.

Landlords are required to pay a $15,000 relocation fee to all tenant households where at least one occupant lived in the property at least one year, plus an additional $5,000 for qualifying low-income, disabled, elderly and families with children, and evicted tenants who have who occupied units prior to 1999.

It’s important to note that only eviction notices reported to the rent board were included in the report, which means the number of Berkeleyans evicted is in all probability higher. No one knows exactly how many tenants get evicted and move out, because not all landlords file notices of owner move-in evictions with the city.

The majority of eviction notices sent to tenants in Berkeley are for non-payment of rent or for breaking leasing agreements, not owner move-in eviction notices. However, exact figures for all eviction notices are not tracked. The board only tracks notices for owner move-in evictions.

“There’s been an uptick in evictions, and certainly the hot housing market is a factor,” said John Selawsky, chairman of the rent board. “Some of it is legitimate owner move-ins, and you can speculate how much is illegitimate. It’s often up to the displaced tenant to monitor it, but of course a tenant can complain to the rent board and we’ll monitor it.”

The number of move-in evictions would likely be higher if it weren’t for Measures Y and AA, said rent board commissioner Igor Tregub.

It is known that some landlords pretend it’s an owner move-in situation simply to evict lower-rent tenants, and then re-rent units for higher rents. Investors buying duplexes, or other small properties with only a few units, with the intention either to hold on to them or flip them, may tell long-term tenants they plan to move in, just to try to get them to move without going through a legal eviction process.

Rent board commissioner Leah Simon-Weisberg doesn’t believe such fraudulent owner move-in evictions are a pervasive problem in Berkeley. Most owners of single-family houses typically do occupy properties after they have evicted tenants, and buyers of duplexes are likely to want to live in one of the units, she said.

Katherine M. Harr, member of the steering committee at the Berkeley Tenants Union, said even with the report there’s a lot we don’t know, but the cause and effect of some trends are easier to spot.

Harr formerly served on the rent board but recently resigned, because, she said, she and her husband are planning to move to Georgia before the end of this year. The Bay Area has become too expensive, she said. “I’m still doing some tenants union stuff, but I’m stepping back gradually.”

Harr said she is seeing homebuyers buying multi-unit homes by necessity, because it may be the only way they can afford to buy property in Berkeley, by living in one unit and renting out other duplex, triplex or back cottage units.

She added that evictions have become more evenly distributed throughout the city compared to previous years, because the prices of homes in South Berkeley and West Berkeley are becoming comparable to other traditionally more expensive neighborhoods in the city, which leads to more owner move-in evictions.

When landlords seek to evict tenants it can lead to unsettling weeks and months trying to figure out what to do in a rental market where few affordable rental options are available to those with limited means. Even middle-class tenants can barely afford to rent in Berkeley at current rates.

South Berkeley resident Laura Sheckler shares a three-bedroom flat in an older Berkeley home with her partner and their four-year-old child, and one roommate, and she credits Measures Y/AA for getting her landlord to back off from what she believes was a questionable owner move-in eviction notice. She’s lived 10 years in one of four units located on the property.

Sheckler said her landlord pressured her to move several times over a period of two years, before filing for an owner move-in eviction with the rent board, but he later rescinded it, after Measure AA became effective. Before that she was considering moving to Upstate New York.

At one point, Sheckler said the landlord claimed he wanted his elderly parents to move into the unit. However the unit has steep steps unlikely to be suitable for older people and his parents already own a house, Sheckler said, making that argument seem unlikely. She said the landlord gave her many different reasons for wanting to evict her, changing his stories each time she refused to move.

Sheckler believes a big problem with owner move-in evictions is that Berkeley is losing its diversity in terms of class and race. It’s a constant issue in the Bay Area and there’s not enough housing that’s affordable to middle-income earners, she said.

Ann P. Hawkins, a senior citizen, who rents a three-bedroom duplex, is presently negotiating with her landlord who wants her to move by Oct. 1. Her two housemates moved out in April and May, and Hawkins said she’s not sure what will happen to her.

“It’s pretty dicey,” she said. “I’ve seen listings on Craigslist and one-bedrooms are going for $2,500 to $3,000. I’m hoping to stay in Berkeley, but it looks like my options are sharing a room with someone, moving in with a relative or becoming homeless in Berkeley, and I don’t want to be homeless.”