Rent Board Election Spurs Conflict

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The ongoing conflict between tenants and their landlords is set to enter the spotlight, as the city's rent board election ends its nomination process for one seat today.

Four self-described "pro-tenant" candidates have taken out papers to run for the four open seats. Nominations for three other seats continue until Aug. 16, since the incumbents are not running.

Incumbent board member Maxwell Anderson said he, along with Paul Hogarth, Matthew Siegel and Juddy Ann Alberti, are running to continue the board's efforts to protect the rights of tenants and ensure a "fair return on their investments."

Bob Dreabit and Jessica Jordan are also nominees for the board but were not available for comment.

Anderson, a registered nurse who has served on the board for four years, said he wants to address issues such as seismic safety of rental housing units without forcing large increases in rent. He said he worked with the city to launch "Project Impact" to ensure the safety of "soft story" buildings, which have garages on the first floor and living quarters starting on the second floor.

Since the advent of "vacancy decontrol," landlords can raise prices to current market value if the current tenant, with a lower rent, moves out or is evicted - a process which pro-tenant candidates said they will fight against.

"We're going to do everything we can to ensure that tenants are not evicted illegally, which seems to be a trend," Anderson said. "(We want to) make sure people are getting habitable units to stay in in exchange for these rents."

Siegel, an attorney on landlord and tenant issues, said he often sees tenants complaining that they are harassed by their landlord to move out.

"A long-term tenant under rent control is paying a lot less rent than a new tenant and property owners are aware of that," he said. "They have one unit they just rented for $1,500 and they have a sitting rent control tenant paying $600. There's a big incentive for the landlord to get that $600 tenant out."

Siegel, who worked for the board from 1985 to 1997, is running with the other three as a "unified slate" for the four open seats under the name Committee to Defend Affordable Housing.

"One of the big things I'm concerned about if elected is called habitability - conditions at rental properties," he said. "Now that landlords are able to go to market for so many of their units, there is no longer any excuse why properties in Berkeley shouldn't shine."

Siegel said he wants to prevent the rising cost of living in Berkeley from forcing out writers, artists, students and low income residents.

Albert Sukoff, a member of the Berkeley Property Owners Association, said rent control does more harm than good and that the rent board is often biased against landlords. He said landlords are allowed to increase rent by a set percentage each year to compensate for inflation and the increased price of living - but that Berkeley's percentage is too low.

"The 1 percent they give isn't enough," he said. "They've given less than 1 percent for the past three years. They don't enforce this with fairness to both sides."

Cities with annual increases generally range from 4 to 7 percent, Sukoff said. He added that increasing rent by the allowed amount each year is optional for the tenant.

"If everybody who wanted to live in Berkeley, instead of everyone who does live in Berkeley, could vote, rent control would be out in two minutes," he said.


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