A fiery blaze engulfed an apartment building at the corner of Haste Street and Telegraph Avenue on the night of Nov. 18, sending up in smoke the homes of 68 tenants, several businesses as well as the confidence of some residents in their building’s management.
Soon after the fire, UC Berkeley community members swiftly offered support to displaced students. Those within the Office of Student Affairs and the ASUC orchestrated efforts to solicit donations and offered emergency housing, free meals and financial aid. We commend their prompt and noble efforts to assist our fellow students impacted by this tragedy.
However, the one person who tenants generally would look to for guidance and support at a time like this is seemingly not fulfilling this role: the landlord, Kenneth Ent. Complaints about the landlord’s alleged lack of communication with tenants following the fire and maintenance of the building previously are very troubling. An open letter by the “Homeless, Hopeless, and Helpless tenants of 2441 Haste Street” states that tenants have not been able to speak with the building owner, that he has not reached out to them and that the owner had not kept up with proper maintenance of the building.
Regardless of what renters’ agreements with the landlord may state, Ent should take responsibility for communicating with his tenants. He should ensure that they know their rights following the destruction of their homes — homes which he owned and from which he profited.
Additionally, if the landlord does not come forth to take responsibility for ensuring the well-being of his tenants, the city should play a role in making sure that these Berkeley residents are taken care of and that the landlord is held accountable for what he legally owes his tenants.
Let this incident be a learning lesson to all: to landlords that they should properly maintain regular and thorough communication with their tenants and to everyone to be aware that such a tragedy can spark at any time.
Those interested in donating to students displaced by the fire can do so here: givetocal.berkeley.edu/fund/?f=FU1064000.