City Rent Board, ASUC Join to Promote Tenants' Rights

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A leaky roof. Broken smoke detectors. Damaged plumbing systems.

Tenants shouldn't tolerate these conditions, tenants' rights advocates say. The ASUC and the Rent Stabilization Board kicked off Tenants' Rights Week yesterday, setting up a tent on Sproul Plaza for students to ask questions about housing problems.

The awareness week comes one week after the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board voted to deny rent increases for Berkeley tenants under rent control.

"(Tenants' Rights Week is) one of the most important campaigns on campus," said Faith Stein, director of the ASUC City Affairs Lobby and Housing Commission. "It's a grassroots push to make sure students know their rights."

Some landlords refuse to give security deposits back to their tenants when they move out, said Kevin Chiang, director of ASUC Renters' Legal Assistance.

"We don't want people to be marginalized or their rights violated because they don't know what they are."

Berkeley tenants under rent control will also enjoy flat rental prices next year, a result of a vote by the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board. The decision was based on an annual operating cost study.

The study, conducted by an outside consulting firm, Seifel Consulting Inc., showed a decrease in the cost of natural gas for the city, which board members said made the 0 percent rent increase tenable.

The study reported that most expenses remained flat. There was a decrease in operating expense factors for gas by nearly 40 percent.

"The reason for (last year's rent increase) was that gas prices went up last year," said Rent Stabilization Board member Paul Hogarth. "We thought it'd be fair to give (tenants) a break this year."

The rent board approved across-the-board rent increases in the past seven years, often by 1 percent. Last year, the board allowed a 3.5 percent increase to account for rising energy prices.

Hogarth said he was satisfied with the rent increase because it both maintains affordable rent in Berkeley and-because of decreasing utility costs-is at the same time fair to city landlords.

But president of Berkeley Property Owners' Association, Robert Cabrera, called the 0 percent rent increase "inadequate."

"Rent control and a bad market has a negative effect in that landowners refuse to lower their asking price, and that hurts tenants," Cabrera said. "(The order) just points out that rent control doesn't work."

Berkeley City Councilmember Betty Olds called the board's order unfair.

"(The order is) not fair for either side," Olds said. "This shows how vindictive the rent board can be and how wrong it is not to have a rent board that represents Berkeley at large."


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