Berkeley rent board removes disincentives for lowering rent, responds to state emergency

Photo of Rent Board
Lisi Ludwig/File
The Berkeley rent board amended an earlier rent board resolution to allow landlords and tenants to voluntarily agree to temporary rent reductions without long-term consequences.

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The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board passed two policies Friday that would reduce disincentives for landlords to lower rent and respond to the state emergency.

The first measure amended an earlier rent board resolution to allow landlords and tenants to voluntarily agree to temporary rent reductions without long-term consequences. Under current policies, temporary rent reductions could permanently lower the rent ceiling of the unit, which is the maximum price a landlord is legally allowed to charge for rent, and the market rent rate of the property.

It also included a guarantee that any rent waivers would not be collectible as unpaid rent after the agreement expires.

“I know that some of you are concerned that, if you put this through, it’s still voluntary and there won’t be owners who will reduce the rent and forgive the rent,” said Berkeley Property Owners Association Executive Director Krista Gulbransen during public comment. “But, I can guarantee you that there are owners waiting for this legislation to pass so that they may do so.”

At the meeting, there was some debate of the measure’s cap on only affecting leases and agreements negotiated before or on Sept. 1.

Public commenter Moni Law said she would like to see the commission move the date to October or even December, but the commission ultimately opted not to move the date so as to not manipulate the market rates too much.

The policy was successfully amended by rent board commissioner Soli Alpert, who added a provision that would allow landlords and tenants who had existing rent-lowering provisions to be eligible and benefit from the policy as well.

“This is adding flexibility without taking any away,” Alpert said during the meeting.

Ultimately, the board passed the measure unanimously, with one recusal by commissioner John Selawsky.

The other provision the board discussed was the activation of an emergency provision allowing Berkeley landlords to voluntarily provide housing to disaster victims displaced by Northern California wildfires at below-market-rate rents for up to six months.

The policy was first implemented in 2005 with Hurricane Katrina and has been used with the various hurricanes and fires of 2017.

According to rent board Acting Executive Director Matthew Brown, it is unclear if the provision was actually used the last time it was enacted, but properties technically did not have to advise the board if they did. For the newest iteration of the policy, vice chair Leah Simon-Weisberg added an amendment requesting that Brown’s office collect data and report to the board on its usage.

The second policy also passed unanimously, with no abstentions.

The meeting adjourned in honor of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Aug. 23.

Contact Kate Finman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.