Owner move-in evictions in Berkeley rise, raising concerns

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Owner move-in, or OMI, evictions are on the rise in Berkeley, raising concerns about the availability of housing in an increasingly unaffordable market and questions of whether owners are using the eviction method properly.

During an OMI eviction, a landlord evicts a tenant from a property when the landlord or a close family member plans to move in. These evictions must come with a 60-day notice if the tenant has lived there for at least a year, according to Matt Brown, staff attorney for the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board.

According to a city report, between July 2013 and June 2016, the number of OMI eviction notices filed to the city of Berkeley more than doubled from the previous three-year period, with 73 notices filed to the board.

“Certainly there are legitimate reasons why (landlords) do owner move-in evictions,said Councilmember Sophie Hahn. “But I think there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that people are also trying to use that eviction method to regain control of the unit and charge higher rent.”

Measure AA was passed in November 2016 to protect tenants and tighten regulations in the case of owner move-ins, according to the report, increasing the amount of relocation assistance to $15,000. This amount was formerly $4,500 and only eligible to low-income tenants, and had not been increased since Measure Y was approved in 2000.

According to Brown, this new regulation is more on par with other jurisdictions.

While it is still behind San Francisco’s relocation system, Brown said, it is very comparable to cities such as West Hollywood.

According to rent board commissioner Leah Simon-Weisberg, tenants in neighboring Oakland are actually much more at risk. Berkeley monitors OMI evictions very closely.

“We really take seriously making sure (the evictions are) not done fraudulently,” said Simon-Weisberg. Unlike Oakland, the city of Berkeley has an ordinance that requires landlords to notify tenants of their rent control rights, according to Simon-Weisberg.

Despite the protection Measure AA provides for tenants, Hahn spoke of “unintended consequences” of the measure. She said one Berkeley resident caring for his wife, who has terminal cancer, had to pay $15,000 when he wanted to rent out his current unit and move into a smaller space in his own private home.

Hahn said the landlord in question couldn’t afford the fee with his wife’s medical bills. According to Hahn, the man was not compromising the housing available in Berkeley because he was going to put his own house on the market, but was still negatively impacted by the measure.

In spite of this, Hahn still supports the measure overall. She believes, however, that it might be worth considering some exemptions to the legislation.

“There’s always wrinkles in regulations and I think we can certainly find a way to create some kind of a hardship exemption,” she said.

Contact Madeline Wells at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @madwellsdc.