Rental Board Under Fire in Berkeley

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SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA | August 1, 2012, 4:06 p.m. ET

By BOBBY WHITE

BERKELEY—A powerful city agency that regulates some rental rates and intervenes in disputes is facing calls for an overhaul after a highly critical grand jury report in June labeled it “a self-sustaining bureaucracy.”

Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Board, a nine-member group of elected officials established in 1980, came under scrutiny last year by the Alameda County Superior Court after two agency employees petitioned the court to investigate alleged unfair hiring practices.

The resulting grand jury report found the agency to be a “bureaucracy that operates without effective oversight and accountability.” The report said the board heavily favored tenants by hiring a lobbyist for pro-tenant issues and contracting with local nonprofits to help tenants fight eviction. The board has raised rental-unit registration fees paid by landlords from $22 at the beginning of rent control in 1980 to $194 today.

 

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(Lianne Milton for The Wall Street Journal ) Jon Vicars, left, vice president of the Berkeley Property Association, in front of his apartment building with Dave Saunders, building manager and tenant. 'We've been complaining for years about how the board has operated and it has fallen on deaf ears,' Mr. Vicars says.

                                                                            

Rent Stabilization Board members are elected to serve for four years and are limited to two terms. Members run in contested elections and can solicit contributions from residents, tenants and property owners.

The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Berkeley is $1,885, a 21% increase from just five years ago, according to RealFacts LLC, a local firm that tracks rental rates in the Bay Area. In comparison, average rent for a one-bedroom in San Francisco is $2,632, up 32% from five years ago, according to RealFacts.

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Grand Jury criticizes Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board

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June 26, 2012 9:27 am by Frances Dinkelspiel

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Berkeley voters passed a rent stabilization law in 1980, and the law now covers 19,000 rental units in the city. Photo: Tracey Taylor

 

A highly critical report by the Alameda County Grand Jury has found that the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board is a “self-sustaining bureaucracy that operates without effective oversight and accountability.”

This rent board pays Jay Kelekian, its director, $183,000 a year to oversee a $4 million budget and manage just 21 employees – which is more than the city Berkeley pays its director of public works, who oversees 326 employees and has a $90 million annual budget, according to the report.

“The executive director makes an exorbitant salary that comprises nearly 5% of the entire budget of the agency,” according to the report. “The Grand Jury finds this unacceptable and concludes the board needs to reprioritize services and to reduce costs, not only in its administration but in services to the citizens of Berkeley.”

The rent board also pays its board members an “excessive” $500 a month and provides health benefits, according to the report. BRSB also spends $50,000 a year on a Sacramento lobbyist.

The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board is able to pay its administrators so handsomely because it imposes some of the highest rental registration fees in the state, according to the report. Berkeley assesses landlords $194 per rental unit, compared to Oakland’s assessment of $30 per unit, and San Francisco’s $25 per unit assessment. While Santa Monica assesses landlords $156 per rental unit, it also permits landlords to recoup those costs from tenants by levying a $13 monthly fee. Berkeley, in contrast, does not allow landlords to recoup their costs, according to the report. Property owners can only assess tenants $4 a month for a total of $48. Continue reading