April 2015 News for Berkeley Property Owners & Housing Providers
In Case you need a copy of the March Worshop
Hand-out, link Here
NEXT MEMBERS MEETING
Thursday May 7th, 2015
Topic: How to Avoid the Tenant Law Suit
This evening presentation will bring together Tenant advocates as well as Berkeley Landlords to speak on best practices and how to avoid costly litigation.
Free for BPOA members $40 for non-members
Refreshments: 6:15pm, Workshop: 6:30pm
St. Johns Presbyterian Church
2727 College Avenue
in Berkeley, 94705.
Fireside Meeting Room
A few years back, along with many other BPOA members, I went before the Berkeley City Council and opposed the creation of a deputy director position for the Rent Stabilization Board. We even went so far as to say in public that the job is simply being created so Steve Barton can retire with a higher pension.
At the time our assertion was refuted and we were told that there would be a fair hiring process. But at the end of the day, Steve Barton was hired. The reason proffered for the necessity of the position was so that there would be continuity in the administration of the program should something happen to the executive director and to properly assure a transition. The fact that a twenty-person organization requires a Vice President is dubious.
At the end of the day, it appears that the position actually was created simply to help out friends. The reason why I say this is the following:
Steve Barton retired last year. I am told that interviews were conducted to fill his position. In the end staff recommended that the Director of Housing and Community Services for the City of Berkeley, Drew King, be hired for the position and he was ultimately hired towards the end of last year. Curiously, they also split the position into a 80% job and gave the other 20% of the job to a hearing examiner.
Whoever heard of splitting a position between two people and assigning them disproportionate percentages? It probably is done in certain administrative circles for fancy accounting but in real life who really does this? Is someone actually apportioning work and making sure that one only does 20% of the duties and the other does 80% of the duties?
In addition I was surprised that the hire did not occur from within the rent board to another cohort or friend of staff. But now I know why. Mr. King’s appointment was more than likely intended to simply be temporary.
Unfortunately Mr. King is ill and was so prior to his hiring and that was a fact widely known. Of course during a hiring process you cannot consider one’s health unless it would hamper that person’s ability to discharge the duties of the job. So the question becomes how sick was Mr. King prior to the hiring and how much of this was known at the time of his hiring.
If they knew that he was sick and probably did not intend to work much longer and hired him regardless, that is just unethical. I think the Rent Board needs to be reminded that they have a fiduciary duty to the citizens of Berkeley and using the post of deputy director to simply help out friends is not proper. Furthermore, if this is a legitimate and humanitarian manner to treat an unfortunately ill city employee, the funding should be borne by all Berkeley taxpayers and come from the general fund; not borne only by Berkeley property owners by using Rent Board funds, the only source of which is registration fees.
From what I am told, which I am not a 100% sure about, is that Mr. King never did go to work at the Rent Board but was out on sick leave from day one. Now he is moving to Florida. So if the rent board continues to pay him, knowing he is not in the area, and hired him knowing that this was going to occur, this is just wrong.
But it also possibly explains why they needed to split the position to begin with. The other unanswered question is what was the purpose of hiring Mr. King if it wasn’t to actually perform the job? Was the purpose to help boost his pension?
If that is the reason, the City of Berkeley is walking a fine line—that would be the second abuse of this position and it risks getting in trouble with Calpers, the state pension administrator. Calpers does not look at such abuses sympathetically. In fact they sometimes fine governments for abuses of the sort.
You would think that after the scathing report by the NAACP that Berkeley would pay more attention to the HR practices being utilized. The NAACP made it clear that the HR practices are not acceptable and need reform; this is a perfect example of that.
It is not too late for the City Council to now invalidate the position, and in fact it should—before it gets the whole city in trouble. Now would be a good time to do this since there will be a vacancy in the job again soon.
Notes from Michael St. John
FIGHTING WITH TENANTS
In a word, it’s a bad idea, to be avoided if possible. The landlord-tenant rules here in Berkeley are so strongly pro-tenant, so consistently one-sided, that arguments with tenants don’t usually work out well for property owners. There are a thousand ways in which angry, hostile tenants can make our lives miserable when they want to. It is better by far to go the second mile, attempting to work something out with your tenant. A little time, a little expense, and some empathic listening can save you thousands of dollars, untold hours, and buckets of grief.
Being “right” about something doesn’t automatically make it right to say no to tenants. We may have no obligation under law to accommodate to tenants’ wishes, but refusing to accommodate may be far more expensive in the end than being accommodating.
This does not mean that we should always give in to demanding tenants. There are tenants who make outrageous demands and who break the rules with impunity. There are tenants who seem to want to be in conflict with the property owner. In some cases there is a projection of “bad parent” onto “bad landlord”. Sometimes it seems that we cannot satisfy some tenants no matter what we say or do.
In these cases, my prescription is sticking kindly but firmly to the rules—not allowing such tenants to transgress while at the same time being very careful not to transgress ourselves. With assertive-combative tenants it is important that we stick to the rules precisely. If we are sloppy about adherence to the rules, these sorts of tenants will feel justified in ignoring the rules themselves.
Almost always our attitude impacts the outcome as much as what we do or don’t do. I have found at Rent Board hearings that the bottom line of a dispute is often that the tenant feels disrespected, brushed aside, or undervalued. When tenants feel respected, included, and valued, they most often will act reasonably, even when we find ourselves unable to do what they are asking. Speaking respectfully with tenants is cost-effective. Speaking disrespectfully or dismissively can be very, very expensive.
The philosophy of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) helps here. NVC teaches us to be empathic with people we might be in dispute with, even when they are speaking or acting in ways we don’t prefer. Tenants are people, and things work out better when we treat people empathically. That doesn’t always mean that we have to do what they are asking. We can say no if no is appropriate. What impacts the outcome is how we say no. If we say no thoughtfully and respectfully, at the same time acknowledging our tenants’ feelings and needs, we stand a better chance of emerging from the encounter unscathed.
NVC recognizes that we all share the same universal needs. This being so, it is almost always possible to discern the needs behind tenant behaviors or statements. If we acknowledge the needs, things generally work out better, even when it is not possible for us to do exactly what a tenant may want us to do. We may even discover that our needs are not that different from our tenants’ needs.
An example: A rent controlled tenant wanted her landlord to provide a parking space for her new car. The owner didn’t want to rent her a space because she was paying less than half of the market rent for her unit. The owner therefore said no, hoping that this might cause the tenant to vacate the unit. When the tenant protested that there was a space available and that she was “next in line” to receive a space, the owner, not knowing what to say, didn’t respond. Instead, he rented the available space to someone living in the building across the street for $50 a month.
The tenant, furious, went to the Rent Board, then to Planning. At the Rent Board she learned that the previous owner had provided parking to a previous tenant at the beginning of rent control, in 1980. At Planning, she learned that the parking spaces are required to be there for the residents of the building, not for others. The tenant filed a petition with the Rent Board and a complaint with Planning. Fast forward 8 months and better than $5,000 in consulting and legal fees, the owner promised to give her a space the next time a space came vacant.
There are several alternatives that might have worked out better in this situation. For one, the owner might have offered his tenant a space under a separate agreement for $100 a month. The tenant might have accepted that, given that the apartment rent was far below market. Another alternative might be that the owner acknowledge her need for a parking space, explain that he needed to reserve the empty space for a market rate tenant or for the handyman, and brainstorm with her about other alternatives. He might have offered to pay the yearly fee for a parking sticker for street parking, for example. Most important, he might have acknowledged her need for a parking space and explained carefully that he needed to allocate the available spaces for the benefit of all residents and management.
NVC cannot solve every practical situation, but NVC can help reduce conflict. Everyone likes to be treated with respect. Everyone likes compassionate communication. Communication plus flexibility can go a long way to preventing disputes that can build into conflicts that make property ownership disagreeable and that—too often, especially in Berkeley—don’t turn out well for property owners. By employing forbearance, clear communication, and flexibility, property owners can prevent most tenant-conflict disasters and encourage peaceful landlord-tenant relationships—even with conflict-prone tenants.
The New Non-Smoking Brochure and
Lease addendum are available
online for members in our
If you are not a member yet and would like to see a list of BPOA-maintained forms along with brief descriptions, you can do so here.
Too Much Stuff?
Some Tips on Helping Tenants
Low Income Landlords?
Find Eviction Help Here
New at landlording in Berkeley?
Link Here for a Guide to Fees Due
THE ALAMEDA COUNTY GRAND JURY HAS ISSUED A REPORT EXCORIATING THE BERKELEY RENT STABILIZATION BOARD
....(and the League of Women Voters Agree!)
Click for the full report:
It begins on page 63 and runs to page 74.
The Report concludes with the following recommendations:
- Recommendation 12-10:
The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board must reduce the high rental unit registration fees.
- Recommendation 12-11:
The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board must allow landlords to pass through a larger proportion of the registration fee to tenants.
- Recommendation 12-12:
The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board must ask the city of Berkeley Human Resources Department for a thorough position-control audit to evaluate the number of staff, the classifications and workload.
- Recommendation 12-13:
The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board must ask the city Human Resources department to provide more comprehensive salary comparisons regularly and use them in setting salaries and benefits, including those of the executive director and the board members.