Opinion: To help those displaced in recent fires, the Rent Board should amend eviction law

The rules for eviction are stringent. There should be exemptions created so landlords who provide short-term rentals to those who have suffered a natural disaster can make sure tenants do not overstay.

The recent catastrophic fires have created a dire strain on our housing crisis. With a town of nearly 30,000 completely evacuated from the Camp Fire and even more families who lost their homes in the Woolsey Fire, there is a need for everyone to come together to do their part to support our fellow Californians.

Millions in donations have poured in to support families in need and it truly makes me proud to be a part of this California community.

Members of the California Rental Housing Association are also identifying ways to do our part to support evacuees. One of the needs that evacuees have is short-term housing. They need a temporary residence while they determine what they are going to do next especially if they lost everything in the fires.

To help address these short-term housing needs, the North Valley Property Owners Association launched the Camp Fire Housing website to connect people who need housing with people who have housing. This has been widely used connecting people together. There are rooms, apartments, RVs, and homes of all kinds listed for the term it is available and cost. This is a one-stop-shop for those who are seeking a short-term solution.

We, in Berkeley, who also may have an extra room or cottage available, are not in the same position to share our short-term rental options. Many of us do not offer up these properties because of the stringent 1980 law that the city of Berkeley has on the books called the “just case for eviction rules.” This ordinance does not allow for exceptions during natural disasters, which makes it difficult to offer temporary housing.

We want to support and help our fellow Californians in need. The challenge is that often times there may be a room or a spare cottage available now but the owner plans on using it later such as for an elderly parent or an adult child.

A short-term rental agreement of six to 12 months can be signed and agreed to by all parties. However, the issue is when a renter may choose to violate the agreement by choosing to stay longer than the originally agreed upon term. Unfortunately, the owner in Berkeley does not have the same recourse options that are available in most cities in California, serving a simple notice. The result is that the property owner can pay upwards of $30-$40,000 to go through the “just cause for eviction rules.” Often the process includes an expensive jury trial.

These rules create a risk for owners who cannot afford to pay that much to evict someone who has violated their lease agreement. We believe that an exemption to these rules during natural disasters for evacuee short-term housing would result in creating more immediate short-term housing inventory for victims in need. Just from the information I have seen, there are more than 3,500 potential units in Berkeley that can be drawn out of the shadows if a change were to occur. Multiply this over all the cities that have just cause rules and immediately there could a significant number of units available during these times of need.

We are asking the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board to revise the rules and allow for an exemption for natural disasters to provide short-term housing. We are prepared to work with the Rent Board to ensure that owners are not unfairly taking advantage of the situation and that the victims are still protected.

We believe that an exemption will help the fire victims as many still are struggling to find the right short-term housing for their families. We encourage Berkeley and all cities to review the housing laws and identify new ways to encourage more Californians to offer housing to provide short-term relief.

Sid Lakireddy has been a part of the rental housing provider community in Berkeley for more than 14 years. As an owner and manager of rental property, he was the president of the Berkeley Property Owners Association prior to his involvement with the California Rental Housing Association, where he serves as president. He has an extensive history working with elected officials, public agencies and community members to shape rental housing policy in Berkeley.