Proposed changes to ordinance would ease relocation process for tenants

Berkeley tenants will have an easier time affording relocation to temporary units if the Berkeley City Council passes an ordinance at its meeting next Tuesday regarding unavoidable housing damages brought on by landlord negligence or disrepair that leaves the unit uninhabitable.

The proposed revision to the city’s longstanding relocation ordinance — first passed in 1986 in order to provide renter stability and enforce the city’s housing codes — would make it mandatory for landlords to provide current renters with financial support for temporary eviction caused by damages. The change is an incentive for proper rental unit maintenance and minimizes the financial impact of damage repair on tenants, especially when relocation is necessary.

“For a period of 90 days (under the current law), the tenant will be able to receive assistance,” said Igor Tregub, commissioner for the city’s Rent Stabilization Board. “The landlord will have to provide cash assistance to help the tenant pay rent on a temporary unit where they are staying … (Under the proposed revisions,) the assistance will continue until the resident is ready to move back into the units.”

If the ordinance is passed, it will affect all housing units in the city where damages occur, though public housing units owned by the Berkeley Housing Authority might have their own set of rules pertaining to relocation of tenants in relation to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines, according to Matthew Siegel, staff attorney for the board.

Tregub added that there have been previous cases where landlords used the damages as a reason to permanently evict their tenants.

“The premise was that the landlord was trying to get the tenant out so they could do long-term repair or capital improvement,” Tregub said. “In a couple of cases, there are some inscrutable landlords who used this as a pretext to evict the tenant — just five to 10 days in advance — and the tenant would not be able to receive further assistance.”

The board presented a letter regarding the ordinance issue at its meeting Monday night, which included discussion about whether landlords need to provide financial assistance for payment of security deposits on temporary housing units.

Though the board’s first priority is for the council to pass the ordinance, it is also pushing for security deposit compensation that will come from a revolving loan fund. This fund could be provided by the city, but the rent board could also potentially fund it through a source not tied to landlord registration fees, Tregub said.

“My understanding is that it was a funding issue from the city,” Siegel said. “The City Council may consider the loan program, but they don’t want it to delay passage of (the ordinance).”

Housing staff and board members have been working on the ordinance since last January and pointed to relocation service programs in the cities of Oakland and San Francisco as examples of how to update Berkeley’s ordinance.

According to Oakland’s relocation services website, if the owner of the housing unit refuses to make the payment, the city may choose to make the payment to the displaced tenant and then pay a lien on the property to recover these costs.

“This is no chump change — (whether) fixed- or low-income, this can present an extraordinary hardship for (tenants),” Tregub said.

Anjuli Sastry covers housing.