An accessory dwelling unit in a Berkeley backyard. Credit: New Avenue Homes

Update, July 12: The City Council decided to continue the majority of discussion over the potential ballot measure to the next meeting on July 26, but unanimously voted to keep eviction exemptions for ADUs, removing that possibility from the rent board proposal.

The city attorney will bring back a revised version of the proposal with the amendments at the meeting on July 26.

Original story: The City Council on Tuesday will decide whether to place an item on the November ballot to expand rent board authority to certain newly constructed buildings, and remove exemptions on owner-occupied properties with Accessory Dwelling Units and those known as “golden duplexes.” 

It’s part of an ongoing effort by the Rent Stabilization Board to remove a carve-out for buildings that are currently exempt from eviction protections. This includes golden duplexes — properties built before 1980 where an owner occupies at least 50% of the property. Rented units in these buildings are not under the authority of the rent board, so the tenants do not have good cause eviction rights.

The rent board asked the City Council to place a similar item on the ballot in 2020, but it was unsuccessful. That proposal and the current one make changes to the Rent Stabilization and Eviction for Good Cause Ordinance, which was approved in 1980.

Mayor Jesse Arreguín decided to pull the item from the agenda at that meeting in 2020 because so many City Council members had recused themselves from the vote that they couldn’t extend the meeting to discuss the item. Arreguín himself had to recuse himself because he lived in a golden duplex at the time.

Historically, golden duplexes have not been under rent control because of the more “intimate” relationship between an owner-occupied unit and their tenant in a two-unit building. Advocates for property owners, including Krista Gulbransen with the Berkeley Property Owners Association, say changing this exemption would unfairly target small landlords at roughly 2,000 properties in the city.

“This proposal only impacts owner occupied two-unit parcels, small owners,” Gulbransen said, explaining that the exemption allows these property owners some ease to evict tenants or make changes if something goes awry in their relationship. “This has no impact on corporate landlords — so what’s the point?”

Gulbransen said landlords are likely to remove their units from the market if they lose their exemption, referencing a 150-respondent poll by the BPOA where 48% of property owners with a golden duplex or ADU said they would “definitely not rent” their units.

During the COVID-19 eviction moratorium, all tenants in Berkeley (regardless of whether they are in rent controlled properties or not) have been protected by laws that say they can only be evicted due to health or safety concerns. This has also covered golden duplexes and owner-occupied properties with ADUs.

Leah Simon-Weisberg, rent board chair who is advocating for the proposal, said these tenants would be put at serious risk of arbitrary evictions when the moratorium runs out if they do not receive the whole package of rent board protections that comes with rent control. This includes legal help, resources and advocacy.

“Right now all these tenants are protected. The day after the moratorium ends, they won’t have any protections,” Simon-Weisberg said. “It’s a necessary protection to create stability in the community.”

The BPOA has created a website lobbying against the proposal, but Simon-Weisberg said the expanded rent control would be successful if it reached voters.

This year’s proposal also includes an item to expand rent control to cover new properties, which are not rent controlled due to Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act — a state law passed in 1995.

But SB 330 (also known as the Housing Crisis Act of 2019) said if a city demolishes existing rent-controlled units, the housing built in their place has to be affordable with rent protections (either through rent control or by making them below-market-rate housing).

That means these partially covered units need to be registered under Berkeley’s Measure MM and have good cause for eviction requirements. Tuesday’s proposal would also put them under local rent control under the jurisdiction of the rent board, making them fully covered.

The City Council meeting will be streaming online beginning at 6 p.m. on Tuesday. Materials are available on the City Council website.

Correction: The first sentence of this story has been changed to clarify that the proposal on the ballot would give the Rent Stabilization Board authority over rent control if the City Council chooses to implement it on SB330 properties, not institute the expanded rent control itself.

Supriya Yelimeli is a housing and homelessness reporter for Berkeleyside and joined the staff in May 2020 after contributing reporting since 2018 as a freelance writer. Yelimeli grew up in Fremont and...