Alameda County resident sues Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board over Measure AA

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On Oct. 30, Alameda County resident Andrew Marowitz filed a lawsuit against the city of Berkeley and the Rent Stabilization Board for allegedly misleading the Berkeley community into passing Measure AA, which was on the 2016 ballot.

The measure, passed in 2016 with 73 percent support, includes a number of amendments to aspects of rent stabilization and eviction policy. Prominently, it requires landlords to pay $15,000 to evicted tenant households in the case of owner move-ins.

The section of the policy Marowitz is contesting also mandated that only certain units are exempt from rent controls and mandated registration as “new construction.” All other properties are subject to rent controls and must register as new construction.

As a longtime landlord, Marowitz claims the rent board was not transparent about ramifications of the measure. According to Marowitz, it did not make residents aware of the fact that hundreds of properties would no longer qualify for certain exemptions. He added that he himself did not know the classification of his property had changed until he was sent a bill for a registration fee.

“They didn’t tell us anything about it,” Marowitz said. “They deprived me of my opportunity to oppose, to argue against it … to litigate before it was voted on. At that point, I would have put a preliminary injunction against (Measure) AA, and it never would’ve been voted on.”

The city of Berkeley and the rent board could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Measure AA had gained support from city officials who saw it as a measure to prevent Berkeley citizens from being evicted and displaced. Since its enactment, however, others have voiced concerns about certain unexpected consequences, such as owner move-in evictions.

Marowitz, who will be representing himself in court, is suing now — two years after the measure was passed — in part because it took him time to realize how the measure would affect him.

Marowitz said that as an Oakland resident at the time of the vote on Measure AA, he was not aware of the full extent of the measure until after it passed.

“I didn’t even know this component of this ballot measure,” Marowitz said. “I didn’t know I had lost my exemption until a month later, (when) they sent me my bill registration fee.”

Marowitz, who bought his property on the basis and expectation that it would be exempt from rent control and classification as “new construction,” claims he lost an estimated $250,000 of property value from the passage of this measure.

Marowitz also expressed his concern about Proposition 10 on this year’s ballot, which would allow local governments to adopt rent control on any type of rental housing, repealing the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act of 1995.

According to Marowitz, the presence of rent controls disincentivizes people from being landlords and developers from starting housing projects, a situation that may contribute to the current housing crisis.

The goal of the lawsuit is to allow the exemptions on Marowitz’s property to be reinstated or to compensate Marowitz with the $250,000 he claims he lost in property value.

“I considered my property as a free bird in flight amongst a city full of caged birds … and that came with a premium,” Marowitz said.

Sabrina Dong covers crime and courts. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Sabrina_Dong_.