The Richmond Rent Board administers the Richmond Rent Ordinance, sets Richmond Rent Control’s annual allowable rental adjustment, and acts as a venue to resolve disputes with landlords.  Richmond tenants can petition the Richmond Rent Board to reduce their rent due to a decrease in services, determine that the landlord has overcharged rent, where a landlord denies the right to roommates, determine that a change in space had occurred, for a landlord’s failure to pay relocation payments, or request rent withholding.  Although allowed, lawyers are not typically necessary at the Richmond Rent Board.  Instead, numerous tenants successfully file and attend Richmond Rent Board hearings each year.  Continue reading our article to learn how best to prepare for a Richmond Rent Board hearing so that you are poised for success.

To discuss the Richmond Rent Ordinance, Richmond Rent Control, or your upcoming Richmond Rent Board hearing, contact Astanehe Law to speak with an experienced tenant attorney.

Additionally, the Richmond Rent Board helps with completing and filing Rent Board petitions.

Richmond Rent Board Tenant Petitions

Richmond tenants may file the following types of petitions at the Richmond Rent Board:

  • Decrease in Services Rent Reduction Petition: This petition seeks a rent reduction for a decrease in housing services, such as unrepaired habitability defects at the rental property, or a denied service.  If successfully, the Richmond Rent Board will order the landlord to reduce the tenant’s rent until the underlying issue(s) is/are resolved, and to compensate the tenant for their damages.
  • Decrease in Number of Tenants Petition: This petition seeks a rent reduction for any landlord action that unlawfully denies the right to a roommate, such as unreasonably refusing to grant a tenant’s request for an additional roommate;
  • Unlawful Rent Increase Petition: This petition compensates Richmond tenants who have paid rent unlawfully increased over Richmond Rent Control.
  • Failure to Refund Security Deposit Petition: Richmond tenants whose former landlords unjustly failed to return security deposits may file this petition to recover the unlawfully withheld security deposit balance; and,
  • Failure to Pay Relocation Payments: Richmond tenants entitled to relocation payments under the Richmond Rent Ordinance may file this petition where the landlord fails to pay relocation payments due.

In addition to completing at least one of the above petitions, Richmond tenants must also complete the Multiple Grounds petition, which seeks general information about the parties and claim(s).

Filing the Richmond Rent Board Petition

After completing all applicable petitions, Richmond tenants must complete the following steps to obtain a favorable Richmond Rent Board determination:

  1. Include evidence and documentation to support the petition;
  2. Serve a copy of the petition & supporting documentation and evidence on the landlord;
  3. File the original petition, supporting documentation and evidence, and completed proof of service at the Richmond Rent Board via first class mail or in person.

If your filed petition is proper, the Richmond Rent Board will accept it.  However, if improper or if the petition contains a mistake, the Richmond Rent Board will reject it and inform you of any deficiencies.  Please note that acceptance does not mean that the tenant has submitted adequate evidence and documentation to meet its legal burden of proof, but rather that the petition, and not the evidence & documentation, is adequate.

Upon acceptance, the Richmond Rent Board mails a Notice to Opposing Parties and Board, which informs the parties of the filed petition and pending dispute.

Does the Richmond Rent Board Charge a Filing Fee?

No, there is no fee for filing a petition at the Richmond Rent Board.

Will the Richmond Rent Board Automatically Hold a Hearing on the Petition?

 No, the Richmond Rent Board has the power to determine the petition without a hearing, which will likely occur where neither party requests a hearing within twenty-one calendar days of the date of mailing of the Notice to Opposing Parties and Board.  However, the Richmond Rent Board Hearing Examiner may notice a hearing on their own accord.

If a hearing is noticed, the parties will receive a notice containing the hearing date and time. Appearance is mandatory.  Failure to appear typically results in a default judgment against the nonappearing party.

Preparing for the Richmond Rent Board Hearing

For cases that receive a notice of hearing, it will behoove the tenant to prepare for the Rent Board hearing.  Richmond Rent Board Hearing Examiners have full dockets and limited time for each case. Against this backdrop, a well-prepared tenant that succinctly proves their case will likely fare much better during a hearing.

Gather Evidence & Documents Before Hearing & Bring Three Copies to the Richmond Rent Board Hearing

Although already attaching supporting evidence and documents to the progenerating petition, the tenant should review the record they intend to bring to the hearing.  Further, the tenant may wish to utilize newly discovered or created evidence or documents at the hearing, which is within their right. Regardless of the evidence brought to the Richmond Rent Board Hearing, the tenant should bring three copies of all documents: two to distribute to the opposing party and hearing administrator and one for self-reference.

Decide on Witnesses for Hearing and Prepare them for the Hearing

Depending on the petition-type, witnesses may be appropriate to prove a claim sufficiently.  Further, witnesses are helpful for corroborating the tenant’s claims and articulating facts that are not easily proven with written documents.  A well-selected witness provides immensely supports a tenant petition.

Appropriate witnesses are people with personal knowledge of the allegations forming the underlying basis for the petition.  Additionally, professionals with firsthand knowledge of certain problems, such as habitability defects, may be helpful.  However, personal experiences and professional expertise alone are often not enough.

Great witnesses must be able to speak articulately and calmly under pressure.  In addition to responding to your questions, the Richmond Rent Board Hearing Examiner and landlord (or landlord’s attorney) will question your witnesses.  The cross-examination, usually performed by the landlord of their attorney, can become slightly tense and uneasy.  A great witness must be able to maintain their composure while continuing to advance the testimony.

To ensure your witnesses do well, prepare for the hearing with them.  Review their testimony, play devil’s advocate, and actively doubt their testimony, where appropriate.  Witness testimony should be short, direct, and relevant.  Instruct longwinded witnesses to limit responses to only a few sentences. Cut out nonessential facts from their testimony.  Finally, practice with the witness.

Create an Outline & Practice Your Presentation

To ensure that you stay on topic and act efficiently, prepare an outline for use at the hearing. The outline should contain an opening statement, closing statement, a list of questions for the landlord, and mock responses to questions from the Richmond Rent Board Hearing Examiner and landlord or their attorney.  After drafting an outline, practice it a few times so that it is familiar during the hearing.

Visit the Richmond Rent Board Prior to the Hearing

Before the hearing, visit the Richmond Rent Board at least once.  Note where to park, where the hearing locations take place, and other unique logistical concerns, such as disability accommodations.  If you require any accommodations, let the Rent Board know before the hearing so that they can be met.  Doing this minimizes the risk of emergency on your hearing date.

Richmond Rent Board Hearings

Richmond Rent Board hearings are informal and designed for self-representation.  The Richmond Rent Board Hearing Examiner has broad authority to conduct the meaning according to their personal preference.  Thus, the tenant must prepare and be able to present their case no matter the Hearing Examiner’s mechanism for conducting the hearing.

Richmond Rent Board hearings are held at 440 Civic Center Plaza, 2ndFloor in Richmond, California.  The hearing could be scheduled in the morning or afternoon.  Generally, hearings last between 90 minutes to two and a half hours but could take additional time.  Where a hearing takes additional time, the Hearing Examiner has the power to continue the hearing until a later date.

The Richmond Rent Board Hearing Examiner may request that the parties present opening statements. Thus, the tenant should have one prepared.  The opening statement should be concise and not take more than three minutes.  The landlord, or their attorney, will also present an opening statement.  Neither party should interrupt the other during the opening statement.

Following opening statements, the Richmond Rent Board Hearing Examiner typically allows the tenant to present their case through their direct testimony and the introduction of evidence. Then, the examiner questions the tenant and allows the landlord, or their attorney, to cross exam the tenant. Next, the tenant is permitted to call and exam their witnesses.  The Richmond Rent Board Hearing Examiner and landlord, or their attorney, will also be permitted to exam the witnesses.

After the tenant concludes their case, the landlord is permitted to do the same.

Alternatively, the Richmond Rent Board Hearing Examiner may forgo opening statements and delve directly into the case by questioning the parties and their witnesses.  Should this happen, take note of the Hearing Examiner questions and tailor your responses, statements, and questions to these topics. This is often where the Hearing Examiner may require elucidation as to critical facts and allegations.

After the hearing, the parties are typically permitted to make closing statements.  They should last about five minutes and summarize the tenant’s crucial arguments.

Are Breaks Permitted During Richmond Rent Board Hearings?

Yes, it is okay to request a short break during a Richmond Rent Board hearing.

What is the Purpose of Evidence in Richmond Rent Board Hearings?

Evidence, including documents & witnesses, is necessary to prove the tenant’s claim.  Evidence should be relevant, helpful, and not duplicative.  For example, while photographs and videos of a habitability defect are helpful for a decrease in services petition, there is no need to deluge the Richmond Rent Board hearing examiner with one hundred photographs depicting a single water leak.  Instead, limit your submission to the best three photographs.

During the hearing, you and your witness’ job is to explain your evidence and link it to your claim. Take about a minute to explain each item you are submitting.  Connect it to your claim and indicate exactly how it supports your request that the Richmond Rent Board grant your petition.

Are Richmond Rent Board Hearing Examiners Fair?

Generally, yes.  Every Hearing Examiner is unique, but they generally desire to reach a just result.  Often, tenants complaining about impartiality are misinterpreting the Hearing Examiner’s annoyance or disdain for the optics of their presentation with bias.  While this annoyance may subconsciously alter a Hearing Examiner’s perception of the party, it should not reshape the determination.

To avoid the Richmond Rent Board Hearing Examiner’s ire, prepare for the Rent Board hearing by having practiced your opening statements, testimony, direct and cross-examinations, and closing statements.  Additionally, have all of your evidence gathered and ready for presentation. Organize the evidence in a packet. Select the best evidence, and do not overwhelm the Hearing Examiner with duplicative evidence.  During the hearing, cover your material quickly and methodically. Attending the hearing prepared and presenting a concise case will cajole the Richmond Rent Board Hearing Examiner – who is overworked and underpaid – into silence and genteelness.

Using the Richmond Rent Board Hearing Examiner in Your Favor

Despite being obligated to remain impartial, you can use the Richmond Rent Board Hearing Examiner to your benefit.  The Hearing Examiner has the power to grant subpoena requests for evidence and witnesses. Does your landlord, or another person, have a key document that, if entered into the record, will help you prevail? Request that the Richmond Rent Board Hearing Examiner subpoena it.  The party receiving the subpoena must respond.  Additionally, the Richmond Rent Board Hearing Examiner has the power to conduct or request that the City of Richmond conduct a building inspection, which can be helpful for decrease in services petitions.

Is Note Taking Permitted During a Richmond Rent Board Hearing?

Yes.  Notating the testimony given while the Hearing Examiner or landlord, or their attorney, exam witnesses is encouraged.

Can I Interrupt Cross-Examination During a Richmond Rent Board Hearing?

 Generally, interruptions are disfavored.  However, they are justified where the landlord, or their attorney, is trying to advance a false narrative, work an absurd angle, bully the witness, or engage in other acts of an antisocial nature.

What Next?

Following the Richmond Rent Board Hearing, request a copy of your record.  This record includes audio recordings, exhibits, all documents filed, a summary of accepted testimony, and final decisions, orders, and rulings made.  The record is helpful if a party needs to appeal an unfavorable decision to the Richmond Rent Board.

To discuss Richmond Rent Board hearings, Richmond Rent Control, Richmond Ellis Act Evictions, Richmond Owner Move-in Evictions, the Richmond Rent Ordinance, or California Rent Control (AB 1482), contact Astanehe Law to speak with an experienced tenant attorney.