Students Voice Protest Against Unfair Evictions

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Two frustrated UC Berkeley students, backed by the support of city and university officials yesterday, expressed their dissatisfaction with local landlords' eviction practices on the first day of Tenants Rights Week.

The two students, Ben Weintraub and Mike Liu, said they and a third roommate were unknowingly evicted from their Fulton Street apartment in 1999 while they were away on vacation after a year in residence.

Weintraub said he and his roommates returned from a short break before beginning summer school to find that their landlord had sold their building to new owners who then told Weintraub and Liu that they could no longer live in the building because the landlord himself wanted to live in Weintraub and Liu's apartment.

"We went home for vacation with the intention of coming back and living here for another year," Weintraub said. "When we were home, we got letters in the mail saying that the new owner is going to move into our apartment and that we had 30 days to get out."

Weintraub said that while they were away on vacation, their outgoing landlord called them to arrange to sign a new lease that would be effective when the new landlords took over. However, since they were not home, they never received the message and were therefore susceptible to the whims of the new landlord.

The only compensation the new landlords offered Weintraub and his roommates was a smaller apartment for higher rent in the same building. Weintraub said he and his roommates then searched for a new apartment, but because they had to find one on such short notice, they were forced to rent one on Haste Street that cost $500 more to rent than the Fulton property.

The new landlords, Michael Lai and Grace Chizar were unavailable for comment.

The students' complaints coincide with a push by local leaders and residents to pass Measure Y, a measure designed to protect tenants from "owner move-in evictions." If it passes, the measure would prevent landlords from evicting elderly, disabled or long-time tenants in favor of having their relatives move into their building, except if the relatives have special circumstances such as old age or illness.

More importantly for Weintraub and Liu, the measure would provide certain evicted low-income tenants, including students, with $4,500 toward a new apartment. Weintraub and Liu received no such aid when they were evicted.

According to Paul Hogarth, a UC Berkeley graduate and a candidate for the Rent Stabilization Board, Measure Y would allow tenants the right to claim an apartment before their new landlords have an opportunity to evict them.

"We're trying to discourage these fraudulent owner move-in evictions," he said. "Large landlords who have other alternatives than kicking out their tenants for economic gain should not be able to exploit them that way."

Peggy Schioler, a landlord and candidate for rent board, said this problem of evictions is not widespread in Berkeley and that Measure Y should be voted down. She said she has elderly tenants that she would not dream of kicking out.

"Landlords are human beings like everyone else," she said. "People are not in favor of evicting (other) people. (But) I think the right to live in one's own property supersedes the right that any tenant has to live in that property."

Max Anderson, a current rent board member running for re-election, said that landlords, who, under the city's vacancy decontrol, can raise rents to market value when they evict someone, are exploiting this chaotic situation for all they can mine out of it.

"The sharks are in the water, they smell blood, they're coming after everyone they can come after," Anderson said. "I equate it to looting in a time of disaster."


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