Berkeley landlord not required to financially support displaced tenants

Tony Zhou/Staff
The fire that broke out on Nov. 18 gutted the building on the corner of Haste Street and Telegraph Avenue.

Despite tenant complaints of landlord neglect at last Monday night’s Rent Stabilization Board meeting, the city of Berkeley is not currently requiring the landlord of the apartment building at 2441 Haste St. to financially assist those displaced by the Nov. 18 fire.

Some tenants — many of whom expressed difficulty at the meeting in contacting the building’s owner Kenneth Ent — have called for compensation through the city’s relocation ordinance, which requires that the landlord provide financial assistance for the temporary relocation of tenants when mandatory repairs on a building are under way.

UC Berkeley junior Ian Goh, who moved into the building this summer, said many problems with the apartments resurfaced no matter how many times tenants complained.

“It’s pretty obvious that the building was not in a good condition, the elevator … would get stuck in between floors and stop moving,” Goh said. “Every time I called into management to complain, they told us to write a letter, and I’d written about (my apartment repairs) five or six times, and it would never get solved.”

Under the ordinance, tenants of the apartment building would receive compensation from the building’s owner only if he decided to rehabilitate it. But because Ent was issued a demolition permit Wednesday, he is exempt from providing further financial assistance for the relocation of his tenants.

“The relocation ordinance’s purpose is to assist for temporary relocation that (is caused) as a result of property owner’s making proper repairs,” said Jane Micallef, director of the city’s housing and community services. “The relocation ordinance is really providing remedy for temporary relocation situations — if the property ceases to exist, the property owner doesn’t have to pay the tenants anything.”

The one thing city staff has guaranteed is that tenants will receive their original security deposits and November rent as soon as possible, but Goh said Ent has yet to reach out to tenants after the fire occurred to notify them of their legal rights.

“When people saw him on the street, he was being shady about the issue and would say ‘The most I can do is return your security deposit and November rent, the minimum legal ability,’” Goh said.

Micallef said that though the ordinance may not apply in this situation, she still foresees tenants pursuing legal remedies for their predicament with the landlord in the near future.

According to rent board Executive Director Jay Kelekian, although the tenants of 2441 Haste St. are not eligible for benefits under the ordinance since the building will be demolished, the tenants of the neighboring building located at 2435 Haste St. — also owned by Ent — may receive assistance from Ent if he decides to rehabilitate that property.

“At our meeting we discussed … that under either ordinance, the tenants from the smaller building of 2435 would be entitled for benefits under the relocation ordinance since those tenants were evacuated temporarily due to smoke exposure,” Kelekian said. “The city’s interpretation would be that the benefits of relocation ordinance would only kick in for the larger building were it not demolished — the relocation ordinance only applies if the building was rehabilitated.”

The city is currently still trying to work out plans with Ent, who has established an office at Remy’s Mexican Restaurant at 2506 Haste St., according to Micallef.

Anjuli Sastry covers housing.