Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board discusses ‘golden duplex exemption,’ ‘good cause’ ordinance at meeting

David Rodriguez/Staff

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Discussions about the “golden duplex exemption” pervaded Monday’s Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board meeting, culminating in a failed vote to delete the exemption from the ordinance and resulting in no action.

The proposed action was to recommend that the City Council add a measure to the Nov. 6 general election ballot saying that owner-occupants must live in the “golden duplex” for three years before the complex will be eligible for exemption from the Rent Stabilization and Eviction for Good Cause Ordinance, or Good Cause Ordinance, or to recommend direction to the council on what to do about the exemption.

A golden duplex is a two-unit property that is exempt from rent control after an owner lived on-site in 1979 and an owner currently lives on-site.

Most of the audience was there for the golden duplex discussion, and many of those who spoke in public comment urged the board to not tamper with the exemption. Karla Simmons, who co-owns with her brother a golden duplex that was built in the 1930s by their great-grandfather, said at the meeting they may have to sell the unit if the duplex becomes rent controlled.

“This is a family unit,” Simmons said during public comment. “It’s breaking my heart that I’m going to have to sell the property that my great-grandfather built.”

In response to a question from Commissioner Paola Laverde, Simmons added that they had tried to raise rent and previously asked the rent board to maintain the golden duplex exception, but at the time, the board denied their request because it viewed the rent purely as profit.

Commissioner Alejandro Soto-Vigil eventually made a motion to recommend deleting the golden duplex exemption in its entirety — the motion eventually failed, with three approval votes, five rejection votes and one abstention. Therefore, the board took no action on the item.

Along with that, the board passed a motion recommending that the City Council add another measure to the ballot that would amend the Good Cause Ordinance to make “newly constructed” units exempt on a rolling basis for 12 to 15 years.

“I think most of the developers that come into our community are coming into this community to make a buck, and our job is to provide affordability to people,” Commissioner María Poblet said at the meeting. “I think this fulfills that.”

The single dissenting voice in the 8–1 vote was Soto-Vigil, who said during the meeting that allowing newly constructed units to not be rent controlled would leave them at market rate longer, and therefore they would not yet be affordable.

The board also unanimously passed a motion recommending the council put another measure on the general election ballot that would require that the Good Cause Ordinance maintain existing rents established by the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act even if the act is repealed.

Sakura Cannestra is the executive news editor Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SakuCannestra.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Rent Board Commissioner Jesse Townley made a motion to recommend deleting the golden duplex exemption. In fact, Commissioner Alejandro Soto-Vigil made this motion.