Students Victimized By Rent Control Laws

Cathy Kim is a Berkeley resident. Respond to [email protected]





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It's high time UC Berkeley students realized which side of the rent control issue their bread is buttered on-especially since there are new policies in effect that especially targets students.

I had my first bite of the "benefits" of the rent control pie as a freshman in Berkeley in the late 1980's before vacancy decontrol. Rent control was in its heyday, and housing then, as now, was scarce. It was so hard to find housing that I rented and began paying rent for my first apartment near campus a full four months before school was even to start, and a full three months before I even moved here. I committed to a lease before I ever even saw the city or the apartment. There was a waiting list and if I didn't take it I might not have been able to get housing close to campus. I paid $360 a month for a tiny studio apartment. I moved here with all my stuff in tow to face the most depressing city I had ever seen. The apartment was a nightmare. It had dirty, worn carpet dating from the 60s, a roach population claiming tenants' rights, and the security was so bad that my apartment was broken into twice. During my student years I became quite friendly with my parents' homeowners insurance policy agent.

I frequently asked my building owner for improvements, he could not, however, afford to make any of them. If he could charge more and make back his money, naturally he would make improvements. But he couldn't charge more, even if I agreed to pay more, because of rent control.

In a few cities across the country, including Berkeley, some individuals thought they could do it better than the market forces. They thought they could "increase affordable housing" by limiting the profits the suppliers could make. Anyone could tell you this will never work. Study after study has proven that rent control invariably produces the opposite of its intended effect. In most cities without rent control, housing supply has grown through the years to accommodate the growing populations.

Berkeley has had the opposite result. Between 1980 and 1990, Berkeley lost 4,613 of the 27,821 rental units tallied by the 1980 US Census (source: Berkeley's current Draft General Plan). No one knows for sure how many units were lost between 1990 and 2000; but some estimates, according to the reviews by the Berkeley Property Owners Association, range from 6,000 to 10,000 units or more lost. The numbers will be confirmed when the 2000 census results are released and studied. But the trend is obvious. Landlords will go out of the rental business and convert their units into single family homes, or whatever it takes to make the best return on their investments.

As a direct result of the destructive policies and effects (slum conditions, decreasing supply of housing, etc.) of rent control in Berkeley and a few other cities, the Costa-Hawkins Act came into being. Rent control only works, however, in favor of those whose tenancies predate the Costa Hawkins Act (before January 1, 1999). New entrants into the area, especially students, bear the burden of today's scarce rental market and are in essence subsidizing the rent of long-term tenants.

Years ago, the student population in Berkeley was manipulated into supporting the beginnings of Rent Control laws. We now know that those rent control laws are destructive to housing supplies in general, and almost destroyed this city. The policies supported and proposed by the Rent Control Board, well meaning as they may be, do not achieve these goals and do not favor students. Don't you let them tell you otherwise.

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