Emergency resolution allowing landlords to temporarily decrease rent without impacting rent ceiling passes

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Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Board, or RSB, passed an emergency resolution Friday allowing landlords and tenants to negotiate rent reductions during the local state of emergency while keeping the rent ceiling intact.

In order to address the inquiries and concerns of landlords and tenants, RSB chair Paola Laverde called for an emergency meeting, during which board members voted unanimously to pass the resolution. The resolution, according to Laverde, benefits both tenants impacted economically by the COVID-19, colloquially known as the coronavirus, pandemic as well as landlords who are willing to be flexible on rent.

“This resolution allows tenants and landlords to enter into temporary rent reduction agreements, on mutually agreed-upon terms,” Laverde said in an email. “After the terms of the agreement are up, the landlord still keeps the high rent cap established before the pandemic hit.”

The resolution’s passage follows a series of inquiries regarding temporary rent reductions during the COVID-19 pandemic from concerned tenants experiencing significant decreases in household income.

Landlords worry that temporary rent discounts would reduce the future rent ceiling, which is the highest amount they can charge tenants and is calculated using the monthly rent average of the initial term of a lease agreement.

According to RSB commissioner Igor Tregub, the resolution would not negatively impact landlords.

“(Landlords) would not be putting themselves in a situation that would make the rent lowered permanently beyond where they can still maintain an operating market,” Tregub said. “This doesn’t penalize landlords if they choose to make a temporary agreement with a tenant.”

The resolution, however, only applies to tenancies signed on or before March 3.

According to Tregub, Berkeley Property Owners Association executive director Krista Gulbransen, who spoke during the meeting’s public comment period, voiced concerns that tenants who signed their lease after March 3 may also struggle to pay their rent. While the board voted on the proposed start-of-tenancy date, it is willing to consider revising the details of the resolution at a future meeting.

Additionally, on March 17, Berkeley City Council passed the COVID-19 Emergency Response Ordinance, which permits delayed rent payment up to six months if tenants can provide documentation of their income reductions due to the pandemic.

Tregub added that under the COVID-19 Emergency Response Ordinance, evictions are permitted in cases where they may be a threat to the health and safety of the tenant, landlord or neighbor.

“We are doing the best we can under difficult circumstances and are always looking for ways to improve, both in terms of RSB’s mission and, now, keeping everyone safe,” Laverde said in the email.

Contact Gigi Nibbelink at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @giginibbelink.

Clarification(s):
A previous version of this article may have implied that evictions are still permitted. In fact, evictions are only permitted in cases where there may be a threat to the health and safety of the tenant, landlord or neighbor.