Although local ordinances have suspended penalties for late rent payments as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns regarding holds on class registration for students living in campus housing with overdue payments were addressed at a Berkeley Tenants Union press conference Tuesday.
According to Berkeley Tenants Union secretary Matthew Lewis, UC Berkeley’s actions would be illegal, but campus is most likely exempt because it is recognized as a state agency under local legislation. Students with holds on class registration are facing up to $15,000 in tuition if they can’t register for the classes they need to graduate, Lewis said at the press conference.
Campus graduate student Vincente Perez is one of these students and currently lives in University Village with his 5-year-old sons. At the press conference, Perez said he was unable to pay rent from March until June and accumulated “thousands of dollars” in debt.
According to Perez, the campus distributed a number of grants to struggling students, one of which he was awarded. When the grant was deposited into his account, Perez alleged that campus used it to pay his overdue rent rather than allowing him to allocate the money autonomously.
“As a father, it was heart-wrenching,” Perez said at the conference. “It truly felt horrible to look in my account, to see money that I had started to make plans for to provide for my children be used to pay back rent.”
Chloe Piazza, a graduate student living in University Village, is also struggling with rent payments. Piazza said at the press conference that although campus said it will provide aid, information on how to apply has not been made available or is difficult to understand.
Many University Village residents found themselves with negative financial aid when packages were released. According to Piazza, aid received was evidently used to pay overdue charges.
“Now students are at their limit of what they can borrow for a semester and their tuition hasn’t been fully paid, let alone their living expenses,” Piazza said at the press conference.
While campus has yet to change this decision, Berkeley City Councilmember Cheryl Davila said at the press conference that the City Council will vote on an item at an upcoming Sept. 15 meeting that calls for UC Berkeley to comply with local ordinances and lift holds on class registration.
Similarly, Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board Commissioner Igor Tregub, also present at the press conference, urged UC Berkeley to “be a good neighbor” and observe AB 1436 which, if passed Sept. 1, would provide tenants and landlords 12 months to make late rent and mortgage payments. He added that he was unsure of whether or not the bill would apply to campus.
A previous version of this article may have implied that campus is exempt from the city’s suspended penalties for late rent payments because it is recognized as a state agency under local legislation. In fact, campus is most likely exempt.