Orloff Property Management files 3rd lawsuit against city

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Orloff Property Management Inc. has filed a third lawsuit against the city for imposing unlawful building permit fees, alleging these fees are excessive and pointed to create city revenue.

“For years, the City has required the public to pay excessive fees to obtain a building permit. The City is using these excessive building fees to make money off the public,” the suit alleges.

Orloff’s attorneys argue that Berkeley’s permitting fees are unlawful in that they require an additional 2 percent fee on top of the value of improvements, and thereby exceed “the actual or reasonably estimated costs of the services provided by a city.”

Problems between Orloff and the city span over several years, but stem from one property at 2631 Durant Ave. across from Unit 1.

Developer Clifford Orloff filed a second lawsuit against the city in February, alleging that the city charged his company unreasonable fees for demolishing and rebuilding on the site.

The recent suit expands on these allegations. February’s suit exclusively spoke on the Durant Avenue location, while the new suit encompasses the city’s entire building permitting process. Furthermore, the suit alleges that these fees were recently exacerbated by a May City Council resolution.

“Fees for similar services in San Francisco are one tenth the amount of that in Berkeley,” said Navi Dhillon, an attorney for Orloff.

The lot, which now sits empty, once held a boarded-up 18-unit apartment building. In mid-January the building was demolished after dark by Orloff’s company OPHCA — making it the first demolished rent-controlled building in the city.

The time of the demolishment also struck some community members as strange, and led community members to question the implications of its removal.

The fees imposed to demolish and develop on the Durant location are justified, according to City Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

“If you’re going to remove permanent affordable housing there has to be a fee,” Worthington said.

Worthington added that the Durant property was neglected for many years and its former tenants also testified that they were not evicted but were intimidated by the company into vacating the building.

The company maintains its plans to build a 56-unit building in its place intended for student housing — as many students are a reflection of their parent’s income and therefore do not often qualify for low-income housing. In order to accommodate students the units would include 40 studios and 16 two-bedroom units, according to Orloff.

Worthington countered that the property has in fact been zoned for more than 56 units, including two extra stories, and hopes that Orloff will compromise with the city in order to build more housing.

“We’ve been in this over four years. I wouldn’t be surprised if it took another four years,” Orloff said.

Audrey McNamara is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @McNamaraAud.