Renting 101: Guide to Berkeley housing

Sunny Shen/Staff

Between security deposits, potential evictions and rent increases, moving into a new unit can be stressful, and necessitates navigating national, state, and municipal laws around tenant rights. This guide, with information specific to Berkeley, can help with that here are some things to look out for.

Rent Ceilings

Most multi-unit properties in Berkeley constructed before June 1980 are protected by rent control, under which rent and fees such as parking and garbage are capped. The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board establishes a rent ceiling that can be raised yearly by an amount corresponding to inflation in the Bay Area, called an Annual General Adjustment, or AGA.

Berkeley rent ordinances include rent control, protections against evictions and security deposit regulations. The ordinances fully or partially cover most types of properties in Berkeley.

According to Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board commissioner Igor Tregub, approximately 19,500 units are currently covered by rent board ordinances. The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board website allows users to check the rent ceiling of a specific unit using the “My Rent Ceiling” link, and be reached at 510-981-7368.

Rent Increases 

Rent control does not mean apartments cannot raise rent at all, but it must be done legally and within set limits.

According to the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, buildings in Berkeley built before 1980 align with the rent control ordinances of the city. These buildings may only raise rent annually and according to the AGA, which in 2020 is a 2.1% increase. Those not covered by Berkeley rent ordinances have their rent increases capped at 10% under California state law.

California state law says landlords must provide tenants with a 90-day notice for a rent increases greater than 10%, and at least a 30-day notice for anything less.

Security Deposits 

Before renting out a unit, landlords may require a security deposit. According to California state law, the amount charged for the deposit is capped at two times the monthly rent.

For units covered by Berkeley’s rent ordinance, landlords have to pay interest to the tenant upon returning their deposit. The interest can be calculated on the Rent Stabilization Board website using the Berkeley Bank rate for March 2020 move outs, this rate is 0.3%.

According to the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, when using a security deposit, landlords are only permitted to deduct enough to cover rent defaults, cleaning services and the cost of repairing the unit to the condition it was in prior to move-in, discounting the expected amount of wear and tear. They are required to offer a pre-move out inspection to all tenants, followed up with a written list of all necessary repairs immediately afterwards.

California landlord-tenant laws require all security deposits to be returned within 21 days of move-out.

Tenant screening

In addition to a security deposit, a landlord may charge tenants a screening fee. In 2020, the maximum amount a landlord in Berkeley can charge a tenant for screening is $52.59. Tenants have the right to a copy of their credit report if one is obtained.

Landlords must provide a written statement affirming that a tenant is entitled to a receipt showing the screening costs, and a refund for any part of the fee that wasn’t used.

Evictions

Fully and partially protected households in Berkeley have eviction protections, under which a tenant can only be evicted under one of the 11 “good causes,” listed in the Berkeley municipal code. These reasons can range from failure to pay rent to disturbing the quiet of a unit after written requests to stop.

Units that are not protected must follow state law for evictions. The recently passed California Assembly Bill 2343 gives tenants more time to respond to evictions notices by not counting weekends and holidays in the number of days provided for response.

Habitability 

Repairs that are considered necessary to meet safety and habitability standards include functioning plumbing, heat, and electricity and a waterproof roof and walls, according to California Civil Code. The building and grounds must be free of rodents and pests, debris and garbage.

According to the California Civil Code, if a landlord fails to make repairs to complaints about habitability within 30 days, the tenant may “reasonably” practice “repair and deduct” by outsourcing the repairs and deducting the cost from their rent up to twice in a 12 month period.

Devaki Dikshit is a business and economy reporter. Contact them at [email protected] and follow them on Twitter at @DevakiDevay.