League Urges Rent Board Reforms

For Rent Real Estate SignConcentrate on core tasks. This is the League’s message in a letter we have just sent to the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board.  We urged the Board to concentrate on its core tasks as set forth in the ordinance that created the Board. The League also recommended that the Board limit increases of the unit registration fee that supports its operations. We suggested that the Board audit its administrative activities and review staffing levels in order to streamline processes and improve efficiency. The League further recommended that the Board authorize salary adjustments for the Executive Director based on annual performance reviews.

In our letter, we recommended that the Board concentrate staff and board efforts on fulfilling the fairly narrow mandate set out in the Ordinance that created the Board rather than expanding beyond that mandate to provide additional services.  Since the passage of the state Costa-Hawkins’ measure, which permits owners to raise rents when a tenant leaves, the Board holds fewer hearings about rent adjustments. Consequently, the League argued, “there should have been a more significant decline in the program budget.”

The letter stressed that the League respects “that Berkeley voters have consistently supported the Rent Stabilization and Eviction for Good Cause Ordinance (RSEGCO) and perceive it as a tenant-advocacy program. We also recognize that strides have been made in serving landlord issues such as offering landlord workshops and treating them fairly. We want to emphasize the ACGJ [the Alameda County Grand Jury] found no violations of the law.”

The League wrote this letter in response to the Alameda County Grand Jury’s Report of 6/2012 criticizing the Rent Board [See the Report p.63] and the Rent Board’s response to the Grand Jury’s Report of 8/2012.[See the Response.]  Overall, the League’s comments followed and agreed with four of the Grand Jury’s five recommendations.

Before writing to the Rent Board, a League committee conducted a series of interviews with the Board’s Executive Director, some Board members, the City Manager and others to make sure we understood the current situation. We then applied the League’s policy position on rent stabilization programs which supports a a fair rent control program “that protects tenants from unreasonable rent increases, discrimination and unfair evictions while providing a fair return for landlords,” and “that are effective, efficient, economical and fair.”  “Expenditures of funds raised by the rent control program should be limited to implementing the goals of the program…” [Our full policy position on rent control, adopted in 1996, is at http://www.lwvbae.org/about-the-league/local-policy-positions/]

Other recommendations urged an audit to evaluate the number of staff, classifications and workload, and make appropriate salary comparisons to be carried out by the City’s Human Resources department and annual performance reviews of the executive director. See the full text of our letter at LWVBAE-to-BRSB-Nov-13-2013

Nancy Bickel, President

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