Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board discusses rent relief, city budget

Rent Board Meeting
Maya Valuru/File

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The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board met virtually April 30 to discuss the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on rent and mortgage payments, assembly meetings in Sacramento and the city’s fiscal budget.

A special presentation from Brian Augusta, director of rural housing project for the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, touched on Berkeley’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Ordinance, which prohibits the eviction of tenants who are financially impacted by the pandemic.

“Tenants have up to six months after expiration of the emergency response to pay back the rent that accrued during the emergency,” Augusta said at the meeting.

Augusta added that landlords are not allowed to impose a late fee on any rent that is not received during the pandemic. He noted that the California Judicial Council ruled that for any eviction notices filed on or after April 6, no summons to court can be issued, nor can the court give a default judgment unless it is necessary to protect public safety.

This rule will be in effect for 90 days or is subject to judicial repeal or amendment after the governor lifts the state of emergency order, according to Augusta. 

There is a foreclosure moratorium in California, as well as mortgage payment relief with a 90-day grace period and, if requested by the borrower, a forbearance of six months, Augusta said. He added that the mortgage relief protects borrowers with federally backed mortgages experiencing financial hardship related to the pandemic.

The California State Assembly went on “unexpected” recess but is scheduled to meet in person May 4, according to Augusta. Leadership in both houses of the legislature have told members that it is unlikely all bills that are introduced will be heard, Augusta said.

“There is reduced policy making at the moment,” Augusta said at the meeting. “Housing and homelessness is a priority but will be heard less than usual in the Assembly.”

Acting Executive Director Matthew Brown reported that the financial standing of the Rent Stabilization Board is in good shape.

He added that, even with this stability, Berkeley’s fiscal year 2021 may change due to the coronavirus pandemic’s impact.

“Regarding COVID-19 and the shelter in place, we’re not sure what impact this will have on the rental market,” Brown said at the meeting.

The board then discussed an action item, which proposes the establishment of a Berkeley rental registry. There was some disagreement on the language used in the item, as Commissioner Mari Mendonca questioned whether the item insinuates that the registry would be a solution to the lack of affordable housing.

Vice chair Leah Simon-Weisberg noted that the legislation is meant to work in conjunction with other bills.

The board is next scheduled to meet May 21.

Contact Shylie Ati at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @shylieati.