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Only in Berkeley • February 1, 2006

Ten Commandments For Berkeley Landlords


Editors note: While reviewing files in the BPOA computer, we came across this item below that was written  many years ago. Sadly, much of it is still good advice for Berkeley landlords.

1. KNOW YOUR ENEMY. Your real enemy is not the people who enforce this law, but the law itself.  The Berkeley Rent Control law was written by people who believe that housing for profit is immoral.  The stated goal of this law is the expropriation (state theft) of all rental property in Berkeley.  That means they want to steal YOUR property!  The ultimate objective of this law is not simply to control rents.

Editors note: Yes, be careful. Be very, very careful. We find that that the majority of employees at the front desk today are just trying to be good civil servants — but yes, there are a few tenant activists still at the board.

2. DO ALL BUSINESS WITH THE RENT BOARD IN WRITING. A phone call or a face-to-face conversation leaves you with no proof of what was said, agreed, or promised.  People forget. Letters don’t. Rent Board employees are less likely to make up answers, lie, or give bad legal advice if they have to put it in writing. [Editor’s note: Still true. Verbal information received from the public information desk is deemed legally unreliable so you can’t count on whatever you have are told.]

3. NEVER VOLUNTEER INFORMATION. When answering questions required by the Rent Board, give the briefest answer possible.  If they need further information, let them ask for it. Volunteer nothing.

4. DON’T TRUST THE RENT BOARD. Rent Board employees often give legal advice even though they are not qualified to do so, and it is illegal.  They are also not qualified to act as Building Inspectors, Health Inspectors, or to determine whether your building is “habitable” or “up to Code.”  Never rely on the verbal opinion of Rent Board employees.  There are a lot of people in this world (and not just at the Rent Board either) who cannot bring themselves to say, “I don’t know.”

5. KEEP COOL AND UNEMOTIONAL. This is the hardest commandment of them all! It’s hard to keep your cool while somebody is trying to steal your life savings! Don’t get into arguments with Rent Board employees. Don’t get angry. Don’t become sentimentally attached to your property or your tenants.  Master the discipline of logic. Be dispassionate and stoical in all your business decisions and dealings.

 6. KEEP INFORMED. Berkeley’s rent control law is not written in stone. The Rent Board makes, revises, and rescinds rules and regulations every month. New state laws and court rulings affecting the rent law are constantly coming down the road. The Berkeley rental market has no room for uninformed, amateur, or ignorant landlords.

 7.KNOW YOUR TENANTS. Be careful who you rent to.  Don’t allow anyone to live in your building that has not filled out and signed an Application Form and a Rental Agreement.  Don’t be afraid to ask to see photo I.D.

 8. SCREEN APPLICANTS CAREFULLY.  The cheapest eviction you will ever do is just saying “No” to a bad applicant. Never rent an apartment to someone who you are afraid of. Weed out the troublemakers.

Editor’s note: Always, always, always purchase tenant-screening reports and evaluate before saying yes. You have no idea how many owners call us seeking help about a problem tenants, or how many of these problems could have been avoided with proper screening.  Not running screening reports is like playing Russian Roulette. When you lose, you lose thousands of dollars.

 9. USE A TOUGH RENTAL AGREEMENT. Your rental agreement should be tailored for Berkeley. Standard forms are no good. Write your lease in plain English. Keep it brief. Read over the lease with new tenants before they sign it. Make sure they understand what they are signing. Your lease should be revised frequently to reflect new laws, court rulings, and rent board actions. [

Editor’s note: Up to date rental forms are available at BPOA.

 10. GET WEALTHY CO-SIGNERS ON LEASES. Parents or other close relatives are best. If a college student can’t get a parent to co-sign, let that be his problem. A kid’s parents know him better than you do. If they won’t co-sign for their own child, there is probably something seriously wrong.

Editor’s note: Always run credit reports on Co-Signers. Many owners have discovered that not all “wealthy” parents meet their obligations.



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