Unlawful entry, failing to cash rent payments, threats of violence, and coercing a tenant into vacating are forms of landlord harassment prohibited in Berkeley.  Spurred by the housing crisis, Berkeley landlords often harass tenants protected by the Berkeley Rent Ordinance into abandoning their home, which frees the unit for a market-rate rent increase.  Unscrupulous landlords may inflict serious mental and physical terror to regain possession of the rental unit.  Recognizing landlord harassment’s dire repercussions, the Berkeley Tenant Protection Ordinance, codified at Berkeley Municipal Code section 13.79.060, protects Berkeley tenants from landlord harassment and keep them peacefully housed.

Even as the unprecedented Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic is forcing many Berkeley tenants to scramble to make rent, Berkeley rents continue rising.  Thus, the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic will do little to dampen the financial incentives underpinning Berkeley landlords’ attempts to recover rent-controlled units form long term tenants.  Landlords that flout the law will continue harassing Berkeley tenants in hopes of driving them out of their homes.  This article provides Berkeley tenants with analysis related to stopping landlord harassment under the Berkeley Rent Ordinance.

Which Berkeley Tenants Are Protected From Landlord Harassment Under the Berkeley Tenant Protection Ordinance?

The Berkeley Tenant Protection Ordinance protects Berkeley tenants, including subtenants and subleases, in “Rental Units” from landlord harassment.  Berkeley Municipal Code § 13.79.060.B.1.  Under the Berkeley Tenant Protection Ordinance, Rental Units consist of any part of property rented for residential use or occupancy by a tenant.  Berkeley Municipal Code § 13.79.060.B.3.

Rental Units Exempted from the Berkeley Tenant Protection Ordinance

The Berkeley Tenant Protection Ordinance does not cover units in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, nonprofit facilities for alcohol, drug, or substance abuse recovery programs, and transitional housing for unhoused populations.  Berkeley Municipal Code § 13.79.060.F.1.  Additionally, units rented by a higher education entity are exempt.  Berkeley Municipal Code § 13.79.060.F.2.

What Type of Landlord Harassment Are Berkeley Tenants Protected From Under the Berkeley Tenant Protection Ordinance?

Under the Berkeley Tenant Protection Ordinance, Berkeley tenants are protected from landlord harassment. The Berkeley Tenant Protection Ordinance prohibits landlords from engaging in any of the following conduct:

  1. Influencing, or attempting to influence, a Berkeley tenant into vacating their home through fraud, intimidation, or violence;
  2. Threatening to recover a home from a Berkeley tenant through fraud, intimidation, or coercion, including reporting the tenant to ICE;
  3. Reducing, interrupting, or withholding any of the Berkeley tenant’s housing services or amenities;
  4. Interfering with a Berkeley tenant’s privacy rights, including requesting their citizenship or residency status, releasing confidential information, or requesting their social security number, other than for tenant screening;
  5. Abusing the landlord’s limited right of access under California Civil Code section 1954;
  6. Abusing, exploiting, discriminating, or taking advantage of a Berkeley tenant’s disability, trait, or characteristic, including participating in Section 8 or other subsidized housing programs;
  7. Failing to perform any repairs in a timely and professional manner that minimizes inconvenience to the Berkeley tenant;
  8. Threatening not to perform mandatory repairs and maintenance, or threatening to do so;
  9. Failing to accept the tenant’s lawful rent payment, failing to promptly deposit it, or provide a receipt upon request;
  10. Offering the Berkeley tenant payments to vacate without first serving the tenant with the written Berkeley buyout negotiation disclosure notice;
  11. Engaging a Berkeley tenant in human trafficking, as defined by California Penal Code section 236.1. Berkeley Municipal Code § 13.79.060.C.

Berkeley tenants suffering any of the aforementioned landlord harassment should promptly request, in writing, that the landlord immediately cease the misconduct.  Where the landlord harassment jeopardizes health and safety, the Berkeley tenant should call the police and file a police report.  Where landlord harassment continues after written requests to stop, Berkeley tenants suffering landlord harassment have a legal claim. The tenant may also obtain injunctive relief.  Berkeley Municipal Code § 13.79.060.H.2.  The tenant should keep a harassment log, which documents the date and time of each violation, along with a short description, in preparation for litigation.

What Notices Must Berkeley Tenants Receive Under the Berkeley Tenant Protection Ordinance?

The Berkeley Tenant Protection Ordinance has several mechanisms built in to ensure Berkeley tenants are informed of their rights.  At the beginning of the tenancy, Berkeley tenants must receive a Berkeley Tenant Protection Ordinance disclosure, which the Berkeley Rent Board prepared.  Berkeley Municipal Code § 13.79.060.E.1.  The landlord must also serve this notice on the Berkeley tenant when terminating the tenancy.  Id.

What Damages Can Berkeley Tenants Recover for Persistent Landlord Harassment?

Under the Berkeley Tenant Protection Ordinance, a tenant who has suffered landlord harassment can recover their actual damages, including mental and emotional distress.  Berkeley Municipal Code § 13.79.060.H.  Where a landlord acts in knowing violation of, or with reckless disregard of the Berkeley Tenant Protection Ordinance, actual damages are trebled.  Id.  Berkeley tenants can recover a civil penalty between $1,000 and $10,000 per violation. Id.  Additionally, disabled or sixty-five years of age or older tenants are entitled to a civil penalty of $5,000 per violation.  Id.  Attorney fees are also recoverable.  Id.

If you are a Berkeley tenant with questions about your rights under the Berkeley Tenant Protection Ordinance, or have questions about the Berkeley Rent Ordinance, Berkeley Rent Control, or California Rent Control (AB 1482), contact Astanehe Law to speak with an experienced tenant attorney.