Berkeley rent board passes item on potential repeal of Costa-Hawkins act

Alyssa Bernardino/Staff

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Updated 5/23/18: This article has been updated for clarity. 

Judy Hunt, a former Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board commissioner, called for Commissioner Leah Simon-Weisberg to step down amid talks regarding the repeal of the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act at a board meeting Monday.

The Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act has two parts — it prevents cities from establishing rent control, and it allows property owners to raise a unit’s rent to market rate after a tenant moves out. Members of the rent board are advocating for the repeal of this act to ensure more affordable housing for Berkeley residents.

Several of the meeting’s attendees ceded their three-minute public comment time to Hunt, an owner of rental property in Berkeley, during the meeting’s public forum. Hunt spoke of board members’ alleged disrespectful behavior toward landlords during a May 7 rent board meeting, which Hunt attended.

“Commissioner Simon-Weisberg should resign for conduct unbecoming to a public official that incites potential violent acts toward property owners. Words and actions have impact,” Hunt said during public comment.

Other property owners expressed their dissent toward rent control, including Brad Wiblin, who said he believes rent control reduces the quality and quantity of housing stock. Wiblin added that the city has a tendency to approve housing instead of actually building housing, saying, “we haven’t begun to make a dent in the supply problem.”

According to Wiblin, higher-income households are free to take advantage of rent control.

“If the goal is to help lower-income people, how does rent control do that? People can stay there their entire life, no matter what their income is,” Wiblin said during public comment.

Commissioner Alejandro Soto-Vigil, during a discussion of accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, said he believes that people want rent control and that exempting property owners from it is “out of our mission.”

Soto-Vigil reiterated that the mission of the board is “promoting rent control, not reducing it.”

“The more we want to say things are exempt from rent control, symbolizes to the general public and investors and homeowners that rent control is a bad thing,” Soto-Vigil said in the meeting. “And it’s a good policy.”

Soto-Vigil added that he also supported rent control and the “just cause” ordinance — which prevents evictions of tenants because of unwarranted rent increases as well as “arbitrary, discriminatory or retaliatory” evictions — for ADUs. The application of both rent control and the “just cause” ordinance to ADUs is contingent on the repeal of Costa-Hawkins.

The board voted unanimously to adopt a proposed amendment to account for the potential repeal of Costa-Hawkins.

“If Costa-Hawkins is repealed, Berkeley has an opportunity to protect many more renters,” vice chair Paola Laverde said in the meeting.

Contact Alyssa Bernardino and Francesca Munsayac at [email protected].

A previous version of the headline accompanying this story may have implied that the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board passed an item in support of repealing the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act. In fact, the rent board passed an item to account for the potential repeal of the Costa-Hawkins act.