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by Jason Overman
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Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Tenants’ Rights Week [Guest Post by Jason Overman]
[Note from Andy: Jason Overman is a sophomore at Berkeley and became the youngest city elected official in Berkeley’s history this past November when he was elected to the Rent Stabilization Board. He ran on a platform of protecting tenants rights, pledging to fight for affordable and habitable housing for students, low-income community members, seniors, and disabled tenants in Berkeley.]
One of the most dreaded times of the year-apartment hunting season-is upon us. For many students, this is the biggest hassle of college life: spending hours on end searching craigslist and going from building to building in search of an affordable apartment that is also habitable and reasonably close to campus.
And so, Tenants’ Rights Week could not have come at a better time.
The landlord lobby has spent a lot of time trying to convince people the market has “softened,” and that housing has become affordable in Berkeley.
They can tell us how affordable housing has become, but as the group seeking out the housing that is in highest demand, we know that affordable, habitable, and close rarely appear in the same sentence.
And we all face the same issues—how to find something that is affordable; how to find something that is habitable; how to handle that security deposit that my landlord won’t return; what to do when my landlord tries to increase my rent; what to do when my roommate leaves and my landlord won’t let me find a new one to cover half the rent.
But the beauty of Berkeley is that while prices might be outrageous, we have rights as tenants—and when we have a good grasp of what they are, we’re in control. You have the right to:
• Earn interest on the security deposit your landlord is holding
• Not be evicted without a substantiated, “good cause”—and there are only 12 legal justifications by which you can be evicted
• A stable rent that will not change as long as you live there, except for an annual cost-of-living increase
• Safe and habitable conditions, and a rent reduction if your landlord is unresponsive to your request to fix problems
Many of us are first- or second-time renters, but we don’t have to be vulnerable and powerless if we know our rights and use them to assert ourselves when landlords try to evict us, raise our rents arbitrarily, fail to return security deposits or the interest earned on them, or fail to fix habitability issues that negatively affect our living experience.
Just as important as knowing our rights is knowing what resources are available to us when a situation becomes unclear. The City of Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board has full-time housing counselors that can answer any question that you could think of—and who can help you assert your rights when you’ve been wronged, including guiding you in filing a petition against an unresponsive landlord with the Rent Board.
So this week, in honor of our frustrating and stressful apartment-hunting experience, is Tenants’ Rights Week, hosted by the Rent Board, the ASUC Office of External Affairs, and Renters’ Legal Assistance. Stop by our tent on Sproul Plaza with any questions you may have between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
We may only have a cool tent two weeks a year, but you still have rights the other 50. So whether you go on the Rent Board’s website, our office (2125 Milvia St.), call a housing counselor (510-644-6128), or stop by Renter’s Legal Assistance on the third floor of Eshleman—arm yourself with the knowledge you need to take control of your apartment search.Email This Post!
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