Relocating Tenants for Repairs May Soon Cost More for Landlords

The council considered updating a 1986 tenant relocation ordinance Tuesday that would mean higher costs for landlords, but decided to wait until Oct. 11 for final approval.

If a fire makes an apartment uninhabitable or if landlord repairs make it impossible for tenants to stay in their apartments, landlords must foot the bill for tenant relocation. On Tuesday, the City Council considered updates to the current ordinance, but after hearing from a landlord group, decided to wait until Oct. 11 to adopt changes.

Addressing the council, Berkeley Property Owners Association President Sidhardha Lakireddy stressed, in a letter to council, the “importance to members because we do not want [the revised ordinance] to be a disincentive to providing quality housing to residents.”

Among its provisions, the revised ordinance and accompanying resolution would increase various payments to tenants, setting a $120 per day payment for a single tenant and $135 for a two-person household, moving costs at $300 and reimbursement of boarding costs for pets up to $50 per day for dogs and $20 per day for cats for relocation of less than 30 days. 

Currently, tenants receive an amount calculated by the difference between the rent for their original unit and the rent for their temporary unit, up to a ceiling established in the ordinance. However, when relocation is necessary for less than a full month, and the only option is a hotel at a nightly rate, the current rent differential formula does not cover the real cost of displacement to the tenant. The current ordinance does not make provision for pets.

Lakireddy asked the council for assurances that the tenants who would get payments actually live in the units. He also said that when tenants know they’re going to have to move out, they should take responsibility for their pets. And he said property owners are concerned that if a landlord lets a tenant move into a unit of greater value than he or she was in previously — a unit where the tenant would then be responsible only for the rent he or she was previously paying – that on completion of repairs, the tenant would have to vacate the better unit and move back to the original one, so that the property owner could get market value for that unit.

Housing and Community Services Department Chair Jane Micholoff responded to the concern of landlords about knowing which tenants actually live in a unit — and therefore what the displacement payment would be —saying that was already addressed by other legal provisions. “There are remedies that property owners have for people residing in units when they shouldn’t be there,” she said. On the question of tenants’ boarding out their pets, Micholoff said that would be very rare, as people want their pets with them “unless there’s absolutely no other option.”

Tenant activists said the revised ordinance clarifies the right of tenants to return to their apartments once the work is complete. It “will help ensure that relocation cannot be used as a means to force tenants out, retaliate for calling in code violations or otherwise impose unacceptable costs on tenants,” wrote Lisa Stephens, chair of the Rent Stabilization Board.

Both the Housing Advisory Commission and Rent Stabilization Board approved the ordinance. On Oct. 11, council will consider possible changes to the ordinance suggested by the property owners.

The staff report on the item is available on the city's website. The presentation on Revisions to the City of Berkeley Relocation Ordinance is also available here


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