City’s Housing Advisory Commission approves short-term rental recommendations

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At a meeting Thursday evening, the city’s Housing Advisory Commission approved new language for recommendations regarding short-term rentals and appointed members to subcommittees on housing and community funds.

New regulations for city short-term rentals will now include language that requires such units to have a business license and pay a fee to the city to operate in Berkeley, among others.

According to Igor Tregub, vice chair of the commission, the commission has been working on short-term rental regulations for roughly a year and had passed its recommendations to the commission’s Planning Committee in June. According to commission chair Bren Darrow, however, the new proposal by the planning committee was inconsistent with the recommendations the commission had originally given.

“The fact of the matter is there are thousands of unregulated short-term rental listings in Berkeley right now and they’re not currently legal,” Tregub said.

All short-term rentals, with the exception of 12 bed and breakfasts, are currently illegal in Berkeley, according to a city ordinance passed in 2003. But several online platforms such as Airbnb have continued to operate in the city.

During the meeting, Darrow expressed concerns that current regulations could allow owners to turn rent-controlled housing units into short-term rentals by evicting all tenants in a building under the Ellis Act, a state law that allows property owners to evict tenants in order to “go out of business.”

According to the new language approved by the commission at the meeting, if an owner evicts a tenant from a unit through no fault of the tenant, the owner must wait five years before the property can be turned into a short-term rental. Additionally, owners must obtain a business license through the city and list their license number in their rental listings.

“That’s the only way that enforcement has a way of looking at the listing if there is a complaint filed,” Tregub said.

The commission also agreed to form two separate subcommittees for the Community Development Block Grant program, a federal grant that funds local community developments, and the Housing Trust Fund project, city funds to support and preserve affordable housing. The subcommittee for the Housing Trust Fund project will examine proposals and make recommendations to the Housing Advisory Commission over which projects should receive funding. These recommendations will ultimately go to the Berkeley City Council for a final vote.

Haruka Senju covers city government. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @haruka_senju