Being a Landlord

Parent Q&A

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  • First-time landlord in Berkeley

    (8 replies)

    Hi there, collective intelligence.

    I have a 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 2k square foot home in the Berkeley Hills. I am exploring renting out the downstairs of my home which has a large space (~14 x 40), a smaller room (~12 x 10), and a large bathroom (~12 x 10). There is a separate entrance to the downstairs. These are the topics where I would love advice:

    • I am someone who wants to dot my legal i's and t's. Where would I start in terms of good resources and I assume counsel to draw up a meaningful lease agreement as well as to give advice?
    • I have a 4 and 6 year old who live with me half the time. Any advice on how to best rent when I have small children? I am looking of course for how to have this be healthy for my kids and also considerate to a renter.
    • Any advice on where to find someone responsible? One thought I had was that a graduate student who has a timeline may be a good place to start since I am close to Cal and then would have a natural timeline for a "trial run" of being a landlord.
    • Any meaningful "upgrades" you would recommend? For example, I am already thinking to put in a mini-fridge and freezer and could do more kitchenette items in addition to the person having access to the full kitchen upstairs.
    • Is there a price range or good way to determine a price range?

    Thanks in advance for your time and thoughtfulness!

    So if what you are proposing is a living unit, it would be uninhabitable without a kitchen (sink, stove) thus an illegal unit. You couldn't get it permitted through Planning or the Rent Board so it would all be underground, subject to heavy penalties when (not if) the tenant or your neighbors file a complaint. Also it's illegal to only rent to graduate students. I think you are in need of a lot of education on being a landlord way before you get to consulting an attorney.

    Maybe if you are desperate for the income, market it as a "work from MY home" space for daytime use only.

    This situation sounds more like renting a room in your house than renting a unit. The other poster is correct that you need a full kitchen for it to be a legal unit, but if you are renting a room and giving the renter full access to your kitchen then it is different. If it is a room in your house that you live in there are not the same renter protections. If you're sharing the space you are essentially choosing a housemate and you are allowed to use some discretion in who you rent to. If it is a separate unit, you must rent to the first qualified applicant.

    Sharing a kitchen means that most rent control laws don’t apply. Therefore, you can probably use any roommate agreement you find online. Just make sure that the lease states that the kitchen is shared. 
    Look for roommate interview questions online. Never leave your kids alone with the new roommate. 

    Where to look? Perhaps a Facebook group or craigslist or Cal Rentals. Pros and cons to every spot. 
    Upgrades? Make sure the space is completely clean and smells like nothing. 
    Price? Check ads for places with similar location and space. 

    I'm assuming you're in Berkeley proper.  A handful of considerations....

    * Contra the 2/1 respondent, you can in fact rent a room in your house without a separate kitchen, since they'll have access to your kitchen.  A roommate isn't the same as someone renting a separate living unit.  The more kitchenette stuff you add the more it looks like a separate unit, which would create different rules. 

    * The rules for a "lodger" are more owner-friendly than the rules for a tenant, so I would try hard to stay on that side (aka, no kitchenette items).  You'll want to consider actual legal advice from a lawyer on how to stay there, what your screening/fair housing obligations are in that situation, and what exactly would be involved in terminating a lodger situation.  

    * Generally be aware that evicting someone is really, really hard in Berkeley and can take a really long time.  There've been scenarios where roommates stop paying and make problems in the common space and it *still* takes months to get them out, if you can at all.  Some family members had to do an eviction during the COVID moratorium and it was a hot mess, even though the roommate was sexually harassing and threatening other residents and neighbors.  (Obviously eviction is really hard on the evicted and should be rare, but this situation didn't really have a viable alternative.)

    * Your homeowners insurance may or may not cover issues created by a roommate/lodger.  

    * Berkeley Property Owners Association has documents (lease, disclosures, etc) you can use.  I find them as an organization very irritating, but those docs are quite useful.  

    * With kids in the mix and shared space, I would take screening extremely seriously.  Background check (criminal record checks should still be allowed for you given that you're sharing space), credit check, references from current and former landlords, etc.  You might consider advertising your spot primarily via closed list-serves for communities you're part of.  

    I've had largely very good experiences renting out our basement, plus one extremely bad one which made me acutely aware of the high risks of taking this on in renter-friendly jurisdictions like Berkeley or Oakland. Make sure you go in eyes open.  

    You want to join BPOA - the Berkeley Property Owners Association. If you advertise on CalRentals, you will get University-affiliated renters (but being close to Cal you will likely get them anyway). There is a LOT to learn about being a landlord in Berkeley  - thus, join BPOA.  Good luck. 

    Hi there, it sounds like what you are proposing may be more akin to renting out a room within your home rather than renting a separate unit. Renting a room within a home is legal and very common. This does come with different obligations and opportunities than renting a complete, independent rental unit. 

    For resources, I recommend looking for a Berkeley specific landlord advocacy group. These types of groups exist in many Bay Area cities. Often, they have an advice line that can answer questions. They will be the most knowledgeable about options and requirements for your situation. They will also be likely to make trustworthy referrals.

    To research pricing, simply search what is available in your area and weigh it against what you can offer. My understanding is that Facebook Marketplace is popular place for room rentals in particular. Craigslist may be worth looking into, but I don't believe it's as popular as it once was. I also think Zumper offers room rentals. This will also give you an idea of where you could eventually list a room for rent. It also seems like that UC Berkeley may have some dedicated housing forum or marketplace that could be useful to you. 

    Being a landlord here is not for the faint of heart. Particularly in Berkeley. What about leasing it out as an Air B&B? You wouldn't have to necessarily add a kitchen (though a nice mini fridge and coffee maker would be a perk) and you can control when, and to some extent, who, is in your space. Take a look at the site to see what your neighbors are charging and run some numbers to see if it makes sense. Good luck!

    Just a suggestion: you might try renting through social networks the first time around before posting it online. For example, your friends, NextDoor or here! I know someone who I think may be interested and is super responsible! I can't send you a message bc you posted anonymously, but I think you can contact me if you want.

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  • Renting to traveling nurses - advice?

    (9 replies)

    One option that was suggested to me for a condo I own in Oakland is to rent it to traveling nurses (or other professionals that may need shorter term housing). Does anyone have experience with this, or any advice to offer on how to go about it?

    The closest medical center to the unit is Kaiser Permanente in the Piedmont Ave area of Oakland - walking distance.

    The background is that with the current lopsided rules favoring tenants in Oakland, I am too scared to rent to a regular long-term tenant, which is unfortunate, but that's the reality. So it's either find something less risky shorter term, or just sell it at this point. (Not considering really short term AirBnB etc.)

    Hi, I’ve heard very good things about renting to travel nurses (or other professionals who use their site(s), such as Funishedfinder). You’d need to offer it fully furnished; they travel for usually 13 week placements, with just their suitcase, and they often stay for additional placements if they find they enjoy the area. You can also try A third option is to rent to UC Berkeley professors who come for 9 or 11 month terms on visiting scholar placements, look at bCalRentals for that ( Good luck!

    My son and daughter-in law have rented to traveling nurses for a few years with no problems. 

    Just so you know, traveling nurses would likely still be considered tenants--unless you're talking like under a month, which is basically an Airbnb. I guess your theory is that since they have to leave anyway due to their jobs, then you would never have to worry about terminating their tenancies? Just wanted to flag that. If you don't want to be bound by Oakland's landlord/tenant rules, selling it may be the best option. 

    I’m a nurse and work with many travel nurses who usually rent using the Furnished Finders website which is like Air BnB but for longer term rentals. They expect the place to be furnished. Good luck!

    We did it for sometime and it was great! Furnished Finder is what we used.

    We are super new to doing the same but have heard that furnished finder is a common website used by travel nurses and other professionals. Good luck! 

    I too was in the same predicament of owning a furnished home that my daughter moved out of to attend grad school. I registered my home with Furnished Finders for $99/yr. That fee includes Key Check services which provides credit and background checks for interested renters. Very handy service. 
    I’ve had decent success because I’m very picky about tenants. Besides nurses, there are digital nomads that travel around the country working remotely or visiting professors teaching at Cal. It works for me because I can just make my house unavailable to accommodate family/friend visits. 
    There’s also a sabbatical housing program which I haven’t registered for but do sometimes get inquiries from professors seeking housing. Good luck. 

    I had two nurse nightmares -- one through Airbnb and one through Furnished Finder. the first did over 4k in damages -- bloody mattress, maggots in the house (not kidding) and he ruined sheets and towels beyond saving. A drug addict, obviously. Did not present as such and worked at a local hospital in the ICU. the second one stayed for a month of her three month agreement -- then was fired from her position. Am put off the traveling nurses right now. :)

    Also still recovering from a Furnished Finder traveling nightmare. We had a few great tenants but the latest bad apple has really soured me on landlording in general. Over the last few months, I seriously questioned whether we might have a squatter situation. My takeaway from this is that mid-term rentals do not protect you from the strong tenant protections that are rampant in the Bay. We have a multi family property that we live on. I now no longer want to rent any part of it out, which is so very unfortunate, but it is what it is.

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  • Hi there.  I'm wondering if there are any landlords here who have had experience installing solar on their apartment buildings.

    We own a 4-unit apartment building in Oakland, and we want to do the right thing and install solar panels to help reduce the building's energy use, but we're struggling with how to fairly do that, as the tenants each have their own PG&E account and are responsible for their own electricity/gas consumption.  I gather that landlords are prohibited from charging tenants for actual electricity or gas usage. Thus, why buildings typically have multiple meters and each tenant is obliged to set up their own PG&E account. 

    At any rate, I'd love to have a brief chat with anyone here who has managed to install solar on their apartment building. And I'd be particularly keen to understand how they recouped the cost of the install.   Did they simply raise the rent on everyone in order to finance the $40k-$50k required for the upgrade? Did they redraft lease agreements and take on responsibility for all gas/electric usage in their building? If so, did they oblige tenants to pay some additional fee based on actual usage?    We want to be fair and equitable, but we also can't afford to foot these costs on our own.  

    Thanks for any and all suggestions!

    Thanks for trying to do the right thing. Youre not the only person with these questions. I’m very interested to see the responses because I’m a tenant and I wish that my landlady would have solar installed on our 7-unit building. Alternatively, I wish that tenants could get financing (preferably up-front) or rebates for solar panel electric vehicle charger installation. Renters currently have cable and fiber-optic internet infrastructure connected to their individual units. Could one or more solar panels be connected to a specific unit and PG&E account?  Many of us in the Bay Area are renters but it seems like only people who are homeowners and also able to  spend money and then wait for a rebate can get solar panels and/or electric vehicle charging stations. 

    Not really an answer to your question, but one consideration is that in northern California the most useful thing you can do environmentally is to switch everything to electric -- stoves, space heating, water heating. Our grid is fairly clean already, and your tenants have the option to choose an all-renewables mix (I would think you could also give them a rebate for choosing that, if you wanted).  Switching to electric doesn't create the same kind of issues in terms of shifting a cost from tenants to landlord, though of course it's still $$$ and you have to figure out how to handle the cost of the improvements.  

  • Hello! My family and I own a single family home in Oakland. During covid, like many others, we decided to leave Oakland to be closer to family with the intention of returning once things returned to normal. In the interim we rented our property out and used a property management company to handle everything. Our tenant has been in the house for coming up on 2 years this summer and we have decided that we will be returning the following summer after our daughter finishes up 1 more year of school (so the tenant would have been in the property for 3 years at that point). I had verbally told our tenant in the beginning that we would be returning eventually and the lease agreement does include language that says we have the right to not renew the lease if we decide to return so I think we should be fine in that sense (barring any unexpected surprises). My question is about a new Oakland ordinance that I recently became aware of called the "Uniform Relocation Payment" which requires landlords to pay relocation costs to a tenant if they are being evicted. My understanding is that there is a clause in the Oakland Municipal Code that says as long as the house was my previous primary residence that I am returning to and that the lease includes language that says I have the right to return to the property then I don't need to pay the relocation fees. Does anyone have any experience with this and can provide some insight? When the time comes I do plan to reach out to a lawyer but am very interested in hearing first hand experience. 

    Unfortunately, I think you will be required to pay the fee, but definitely consult a lawyer.

    I consulted a lawyer on this when we tried to free up our ADU for the grandparents. It was 1 year ago when the covid eviction ban was still in place. But we were told that we would need to pay relocation costs, i.e., cash for keys. It was a headache, but the renter moved out voluntarily at the end and we didn't have to pay the fees. 

    Your rental agreement is key here--as you noted, it must state that you have the right to return to the house. I would ask a lawyer to review the language in your current lease to ensure that it meets the requirements of the ordinance and modify it for the final year of the lease if there are any issues, but it sounds like you're in good shape otherwise.

    respectfully get off BPN and call a legal professional. yesterday ideally. good luck.

    I'd like to speak up about my experience with these this law as a renter.  It is an equity issue.  Right now this law may be the only thing allowing me to stay in my current home as the landlady has told me she has relatives moving into the area she would like to rent to.  My first experience with the law came a few years ago when a different landlady decided to sell her property only 8 months after I had moved in thinking it was a long time housing solution for me and my daughter.  Without the money  I would not have been able to maintain stable housing for my child.  As a property owner you are in the better position financially.  While you a living somewhere else your renters have been paying your mortgage for you.  You are the one racking up equity in the house, the renter gets none.  Moving in the bay area is extremely stressful and expensive due to the housing crises.  This law just moves some of that burden for the move off the renter on onto the landowner who is benefiting both short and long term from the rental agreement.  Sure consult a lawyer and if there is some wiggle room for you out but remember you as the landowner make out better in the deal even if you end up having to pay some move out costs

  • for rent collection?

    (3 replies)

    Does anyone use to collect rents? (or, to pay rent?) Hard to find reviews online - would love first hand experience. TIA

    We've used it in the past, and as a landlord, I liked having everything in one place. We actually started using the property management feature when it was Cozy, before it got bought by 

    Pros - no fee (at least when I was using it), record keeping was a breeze

    Cons - I had a few challenges with adding a few or so fees, and setting up a new lease for someone was buggy earlier this year

    I still really like it though, for only managing a few properties.

    Hello! I attempted to start an account with and found them to not be helpful for posting our units for rent. I have not tried using them for collecting/paying rent though. They ultimately rejected my listings, not sure why, they did not provide a reason. As for collecting rent, we've found success using Zelle since it's direct bank account transactions, and in the past, we had used Venmo as well. We've found that Zelle feels the most direct and most secure, so we've stopped using Venmo. I hope that helps!

    Yep, I do.  It works just fine, no complaints.  It's an easy way to work around the frustrating Zelle/bank roadblocks.  I don't use it for anything else (listing rentals, leases, etc.) - just the free rent-collection part. 

  • We are hoping to donate use of our vacant apartment in Berkeley to an organization supporting Afghan refugees, for use as housing for 6+ months. Does anyone know a real estate attorney who would be willing to donate her/his time to help us make sure we're doing the donation/agreement properly? We want to make sure we're in line with Berkeley rental codes and do not want to create a landlord-tenant relationship. The organization we're working with, Jewish Family and Community Services East Bay, may be familiar with such an arrangement but we want to take it off their plate if they aren't. And figure it out ahead of time so that they can move quickly. Thank you, generous East Bay community!

    If someone is living on your property, even if they do not pay rent, you have a landlord-tenant relationship. It can take time and money to get rid of squatters. Rent control makes it difficult to help people. Your only possible out is to create a roommate situation. Set up an office in the apartment, for instance, and use it regularly. Make sure that you go in the kitchen, if only to make a cup of tea. And use the bathroom, too. You could turn this into an excuse to socialize and get to know them a little better. 

  • Hi all,

    I am looking for referrals for a real estate lawyer to help with the sale of a modest single family home in San Bernardino that my husband inherited. A distant relative has been living there for free for years, there was never any agreement, formal or informal, beyond a "sure you can stay there, just keep the place up" by the previous owner. Given the situation and distance we want to find someone to handle the sale for us and make sure everything is properly done with the least amount of hassle. Thank you for any leads!

    Funny you should post this.  Our family is in the thick of selling our inherited property in Tujunga.

    In our case, it is a private sale to a neighbor. And I am a retired, but still licensed, real estate broker, so I don't need much guidance.

    From what you have written, it sounds like you are interested in putting your inherited property on the open market, whereby you will get the highest sale price. But you are concerned with the rights of the tenant in possession?  And your rights, as a landlord?

    In much of LA, rent control laws are as strict as those in Berkley and Oakland. If the tenant is over 62, disabled, a long-term renter, they are "qualified" to be paid about $35,000 for relocation allowance. In Oakland they are called "a protected tenant". Google the city of Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department + Tenant Relocation Allowance.

    Definitely you will get more money for the property if it is delivered vacant. Do you have this kind of money to pay the tenant before the close of escrow?  Or could you negotiate with the tenant to move out and be paid at that time?

    If I were in your position and planned to expose the property to the open market, I would list it with a real estate broker rather than engaging an attorney for the purposes of the sale.

    The realtor will tell you to ask a lawyer questions that are beyond the scope of real estate practice. The state bar association has a website with a service where  you can ask a lawyer a simple, targeted question or two for a small fee (like $25).

    Goggle for an real estate agent who sells property in the specific vicinity of your property AND has earned a Graduate Realty Institute (GRE) designation. This is a training program that few agents bother completing; those who do are almost guaranteed to have their act together.

    In our situation, for a private sale, we ended up using attorney Jean Shrem in El Cerrito, with whom we have done business before.

    When we tried to find an LA real estate lawyer, we first asked a friend. The recommended attorney did not return phone messages.

    Next, I went on Yelp and found five likely candidate attorneys. None worked out in the screening call.

    Yelp will message lawyers, probably newer ones, and they email you back.  One guy was straightforward and quoted me his fee promptly, but when he sent the engagement letter he got our name wrong - not a good sign.

    So I decided against playing Russian roulette with unknown lawyers.

    However, a contract is a contract. My supposition is that using a Bay Area lawyer is not a disadvantage under our circumstances.

    Escrow customs are different in SoCaL:  They use storefront escrow offices that have working relationships with mortgage brokers and Realtors.  Here the title companies handle the escrow, and are unlikely to screw up. I don't know anything about the comparative reliability of the two systems. It is rare that there is a cloud on the title - in my ten years in the business I only saw it happen three times. Chicago Title spared us some grief and charged us handsomely for doing so

    Good luck with your sale! Even if the person in residence is a relative, most jurisdictions would treat them as a tenant.

    Original poster here. Thank you Oaktown Celtic Mama for your lengthy and helpful response. Your experience in trying to find a lawyer made me laugh because it is just like ours (we did hire an agent for an open market sale when negotiations broke down with the people in possession). We can't even get a straight answer on whether this is a 30 day notice (tenancy at will 789) or a 60 day notice (1946) situation. We have a real hairball on our hands with this house so I appreciate all the help I can get!

  • We recently acquired a condo in West Oakland and are trying to figure out the best way to rent it out to a responsible family or professional (it is a live/work permitted space).  We are new to this so I am hoping this community can make some recommendations about where to list it and any tips regarding the process of showing the property to tenants.  Do people do open houses for this type of thing?  Should we rent furnished or unfurnished?  These are the types of questions we are trying to answer for ourselves and this community knows so much and has a lot of great experience so I was hoping to tap into that.  Our son lives in the building so is on site to show it and can be there for any issues that come up.  Because this is a small building, and the place is newly remodeled, we want to get tenants that will treat it well.  Any advice is appreciated.  

    because your questions (good ones) read to me that you

    msy be a first time landlord, i am going to write this as such. and yes it is a ‘hold up, take a breath’ cautionary bit of advice. 

    do you have a thorough understanding of federal fair housing laws?  state rent control laws? city of oakland rent control laws and ordinances?  do you understand what all of the above means under covid restrictions? do you know exactly who is and who is not classified as a federally protected class? if you do not understand all this backwards and forwards and/or have excellent professional(s) counseling you on these matters i would run, not walk, away from renting out your condo until you do. i don’t want to scare you, but really i DO want to scare you.  being a mom and pop landlord in california is about the single most litigious enterprise one can possibly enter into. do you understand that a reasonable lease agreement that has any chance of holding up in court is at min twenty pages with all the legally required addendums and disclosures.  do you have a solid handle on what those are today and what is coming down the pike next week/month/year?

    i am speaking as a long time mom and pop landlord here. today we would think long and hard about venturing into this business given the current political and legal climate. but we are in it so due diligence, a good landlord/tenant attorney, an EBRHA membership, continuing education and keeping g upto date on the legal dynamics is how we operate.

    a good place for you to start would be to join EBRHA (east bay rental housing association) here in oakland, stat.  

    i cannot stress this enough, do NOT go into this blind.  it is NOT intuitive.  it is NOT a friendly business like it once was.  you should NOT try to be old school and just go about it under the radar because your friend, neighbor, relative has been renting out a place for twenty years oblivious to current laws etc with no problems.  that ship has sailed.  the cost of getting things wrong is catastrophic and one really bad situation will drive many LL to simply close up shop and suffer financially and limp away with scars.

    having you act together is in your best interest but also very much in your tenants best interest.  clueless (but well intended) landlords are not good for residents either. i’m sure you’ll have folks saying jump in, the water is fine.  be cautious with that advice. best of luck~

    Welcome to the wild and wonderful world of Oakland rental property ownership/management!

    I highly recommend that you look into becoming a member of the East Bay Rental Housing Association, They offer workshops/seminars for folks who are just starting out, which cover all the ins and outs of property management (there are lots of rules to follow in Oakland) :). As a member you will also have access to their rental housing forms such as leases etc...They also offer tenant screening/ credit check services.

    Some quick answers to your questions based on my experience, I also have a live work property...

    Listing: Craig's List (has a category for live/work), Zillow

    Open House: I prefer to do tours one on one, it's more work, but I find it's more personal.

    Furnished/Unfurnished: I only rent unfurnished. 

    As a fellow landlord in West Oakland my best advice is to ALWAYS run a credit check on potential tenants and never rent to anyone with poor credit.  If this sounds harsh, remember that being a landlord is a business and not a charity. We do showings by appointment only and do not rent furnished.  You should have a rock solid rental agreement in place and collect first and last months rent and a security deposit before allowing move in after the check clears your bank. Verify that any commercial activity is legal and safe within the space you are renting out and that the tenant has all required permits and insurance.  You should understand exactly what type of work will be done in the unit. You don't want to find out from OPD that your tenant is using the unit for criminal activity or from OFD that it is something hazardous.  If alarms are going off in your head regarding a potential tenant, don't rent to them. No need to explain to the rejected applicant, the less said the better in this situation.  By following these guidelines and having a great onsite manager, we've got good tenants in our West Oakland rentals.  Good Luck.  

    Unfurnished, for sure

  • I'd love to hear experiences from people who have a relatively new-construction ADU (2018 or later, that is banned from 'short-term' rentals), as we are considering a detached (or attached) ADU on our large, primary residence. SFU lot (in addition to a small home addition). My understanding right now is that

    - we would not need to register as landlords (2021 update)

    - we would be exempt from rent control

    - we would not be required to provide an additional parking space

    My questions are

    - Berkeley ADU law says can't be rented out short-term. OK. But ADU 2021 Guidance says not for less than 30 days ("ADUs and JADUs shall not be utilized as
    commercial short-term rentals (i.e. rentals less than 30 consecutive days)", and short-term rental regulation talks about short-term rentals being less than 14 days ("If you rent your Dwelling Unit, authorized Accessory Dwelling Unit, or Accessory Building, for 13 days or less, you are considered a Short Term Rental and are required to register with the City based on Berkeley Municipal Code (BMC) Section 23C.22"). Which is currently being enforced? How are you implementing this? (We were told by an architect that we could, for example, rent through Airbnb as long as our rental was set to 14 days or more.)

    - What are the pros / cons of renting (for either >14 OR >30 days) your ADU? What is it like to be a Berkeley landlord of new-er construction? Do you use Airbnb? Other more or less traditional ways of connecting with renters? I'm familiar with Airbnb as I'm helping host a property for my mother (not in Berkeley), and I like the idea of renting through them. But am open to all the options...

    - We would likely need to use a HELOC to (help) fund the ADU construction. What are your experiences with ADU rentals and income covering costs. In other words, what are your net profits like? Ours would likely be a studio (or maybe one-bedroom) in South Berkeley. What should we expect or be wary of?

    - What do you wish you knew before you decided to build a new ADU? Would you do it again? Why or why not? Other thoughts?

    Thank you!

    Under Berkeley rent control laws you can't rent to anyone for under 14 days because that's a short-term rental. But as soon as someone living in your ADU (or even your own residence) has stayed past 14 consecutive days they have the rights of tenants. 

    There is no way to rent anything out in Berkeley for any number of days without either breaking the law or putting your property rights at risk. You can't even let a good friend or family member stay with you for a month rent-free without inadvertently turning yourself into a landlord who is now unable to move that person back out.

    This is how our rent control board has destroyed the city. Their efforts to "protect" housing for renters causes everyone to remove their units from the market leaving us each year with fewer available rentals.

    Hi, hope some of this will help.  You would be fully exempt from both rent control, and eviction protection, and do not need to register your unit with the Rent Board.  When we built our ADU in 2018, we had to sign a form saying we would never rent it via AirBnB or the like - I’m pretty sure this is still a requirement (though not 100% positive on that one.  I think only older ADU’s can be rented short-term, not newly constructed). I’d suggest including a washer/dryer, and a one bedroom rather than studio if space allows. Pre-COVID, renting in Berkeley was good (for those of us exempt from Rent Board regulations); it has become harder just like all of the Bay Area has.  Highly recommend joining BPOA - Berkeley Property Owners Association. Good luck to you. 

  • I rent a non-conforming basement unit in my single family home in Oakland to a tenant.  Tenant is fine, but some aspects of my work and family situation have changed and I would like to stop renting the unit and use the space as part of the SFH. Have you done this? Do you have attorney recommendations?  Personal stories to share?  (I know owner move-in evictions aren't happening now -- this is something I'm considering for after the local emergency ends.)

    Are you sure that as an owner occupied unit you are actually covered by Rent Control in Oakland?  If you are exempt, I believe you can end someone’s tenancy once the pandemic restrictions are lifted.  Exempt units in Oakland include:

    • A unit in a property that has been divided into a maximum of three units, one of which is occupied by an owner of record as his or her primary residence. The owner-occupant must live there for at least two years before filing for an exemption.

    We are in a similar situation (Oakland, ADU, but conforming). We talked to an attorney and he advised no eviction whatsoever now due to the local emergency. He also advised to make sure the unit is up to code, then apply for an ADU zoning, and then raising the rent because ADUs are (currently) not rent-controlled. We have not followed through his advice yet, so this information is only second-hand.

    My understanding is that because this is a non-conforming unit that what you actually have a housemate situation. It's as though you're renting out a room. Housemate situations are one where the main owner has a lot of discretion and can terminate the lease whenever they want, for whatever reason.

    You may be in a very difficult situation, even after the local emergency ends. When you say non-conforming, do you mean that this unit is not a legal unit? If that is the case, if you try to evict the tenant, they may have a claim against you for all of the rent they paid. If the unit is a legal unit, then your property is probably not a single family home, it is a duplex which may be subject to all of the tenant's rights laws that apply in Oakland multi-unit buildings. You need a good lawyer to help you sort out the situation and try to come up with an amicable agreement with the tenant. Fried and Williams is good but not cheap. You could get more attorney referrals from the East Bay Rental Housing Association. Good luck. 

    As a tenant that was forced to move my family out of an Oakland rent controlled apartment, I can vouch that it is an unfortunate situation for both sides. I will share my thoughts on the experience as the tenant that was forced to move after 8 years of living in the apartment. Timing of the forced owner move-in eviction could not have been worse in our situation. A letter courier delivered the lawyer's owner move-in eviction documents with a check to our doorstep, completely surprising us on June 1, 2019. We were given the minimum 60 days to move out. Trying to find another comparable size apartment at a price we could afford was nearly impossible during the summer of 2019 when this happened. I tried to negotiate a longer search period, but the owner would only extend our move out time by 10 days. 70 days to relocate in the bay area when you are not expecting to do so is extremely stressful, especially during the competitive summer months. Consider that it would be more optimal for your tenant to relocate during the winter months due to the less competitive rental market. Secondly, allow more flexibility with the move out date. A minimum of 90 days would be more considerate, taking into account how long it takes to search for an affordable apartment in the bay.  Lastly, realize that telling a person they have to move out of their home can be traumatic, disorienting and heartbreaking. That is just the reality of the situation. I'm still recovering from the trauma of it all in my new home in Oregon, nearly 2 years later. The harsh reality for my family is that we had to move out of state, like many displaced middle class renters in California. 

    My landlord used Lilac Law Group LLP in Oakland, and they were not too terrible to deal with.

    I want to thank the tenant who wrote in generously with constructive suggestions to the OP based on their painful experience with an owner-eviction forced move.  Recognizing how complicated and individual each situation is might help in some of these situations.  I have a friend who also is experiencing the trauma of a forced move from an Alameda rental.  Heartbreaking...

  • Berkeley landlords what are you doing now with your vacant units?  Are you leaving them vacant for the summer? Renting at below market value?  Or converting to AIRBNB?  We have a sudden vacancy and are finding Berkeley Rent Control laws have made it extremely unfavorable to rent right now.  With rents in Berkeley about 20-25% below pre-COVID prices if we were to rent now once prices rebound, we will not be able to get fair market rent until the person moves.  (We have one tenant who’s been paying $500 per month below market value of 8 years.)  We don’t want to do that again.  We are hearing many landlords are leaving units vacant so as not to be trapped in low rents.  Or they are AIRBNBing.

    Just wondering what other landlords in this situation are doing?  Thanks

    Here's a way to ride it out. Do some networking with contractors who have clients who are doing major home remodels. Those are the families that are wanting a 5-9 month rental. They are out there!

    Feel your pain as a fellow owner with a twenty-five year tenant for whom I pay all gas, electricity, water and garbage. And she plants thirsty roses. Please join one of the owners groups. I joined East Bay Rental Housing Association last year, and found the round tables, seminars, and Q & As quite helpful. You may want to take a chance on a summer session rental. Try to find a tenant whom you can be sure will move out in a few months. But of course no guarantees.

    It's funny that you posed this question as we were just having this discussion in my house last night about what to do with the vacant unit in our house.  The unit has been vacant for about a year now after our long-term tenant moved from California mid-pandemic.  Initially we thought we would look for a new tenant later in the summer and closer to the re-opening of Cal, but have re-thought that strategy in light of the Rent Control laws.  We've since decided to permanently take the unit off the market and will either look to short-term rentals or converting the space to a home office.  The more we became aware of the pretty draconian Berkeley Rent Control laws the more we realized that by renting our unit out we are putting ourselves in a situation that may prove to be too risky for us to justify.  I hear what you're saying about being trapped to rents that may be way below market-rate in the near-term, and understand that concern too, but for us it's really more of the risks associated with having no rights in the tenant-landlord relationship and the legal risks associated with renting the unit.  Whatever you decide to do, I would encourage you to understand the way the wind is blowing with the Rent Control Board and protect yourself!

    I just wanted to share from a renter's perspective...I hope that my feedback isn't offensive to you and that it might offer you and others here something to consider. Please consider renting your unit below market rate. I believe that market rate rents in Berkeley are harming the integrity and longer-term vitality of the community. My partner and I are both full time professionals in Berkeley and make substantial salaries with benefits, and have very little debt. Even given our relatively fortunate financial circumstances and the lower pandemic rental rates, it has been a disheartening and painful struggle to find decent housing that will allow us to consider staying in the area to have a family and spend time making art. Most people are honest renters who want a healthy, safe, lovely and affordable (relative to their income) place to live...just like homeowners. From my own perspective, the fair market rate that landlords are holding out for seems to be well above what so many vital and beautiful members of the Berkeley community can pay. If you are a landlord who can offer a place to live at a rate that may be below "market" but actually on par with what low and middle (even upper-middle, like I consider our income to be) income Berkeley residents can afford, that is a tremendous value and contribution to your community - and by extension a gift to yourself and your family. It creates a rental market that supports essential workers, like us, that the whole city needs. We have been landlords - it is quite simple and does not need to be a full time endeavor. Choosing to earn less money from your rentals and accept below market rate is a powerful and humble service to your community. Thank you for considering my perspective. If it is not of value to you, please feel free to pass over it. 

    Hi! We use our unit as a short term rental on Airbnb. We’ve never used it as a long term rental though, and I will say that the rules are pretty specific for short term rentals in Berkeley. I believe if you rent it for 30 days or more that is considered long term and although you’ll run the risk of a squatter (because the tenant would have full renters rights after 14 days), if you feel confident that they will leave, then that may be the way to go. I’m pretty sure you can’t do a short term rental legally in your situation, except potentially for up to three months of the year…but happy to talk details offline if you’d like! Google city of Berkeley and short term rentals. 

  • Bought a home, squatter help

    (16 replies)

    My husband and I just bought a home in Berkeley. The seller's stepdaughter (probably in her 50's) has lived in the home for years and is refusing to move out. She does not have a lease or estoppel or any other type of written document and does not pay any rent or utilities. She was offered a buyout a few times (other potential buyers) when the home was on the market, accepted the offer, and then refused to leave when the time came to exit the property. The seller and stepdaughter have an estranged relationship. Given this information, we are struggling with next steps.

    • Should we hire an attorney to advise us? Any recommendations on attorneys who can help us navigate this?
    • Should we attempt to talk to her first before even talking to an attorney?
    • Is she legally even considered a tenant? Is she a squatter?
    • Has anyone been through a similar situation and can offer some advice/insight?
    • The seller is asking that we transfer all utilities under our name. We would like to shut off all utilities because we are not planning on moving in immediately. We are planning a large renovation and in the process of getting contractors/architects to come out to the property. I'm not even sure if this is possible if she is still living there. 

    Thank you!

    Uh.... don't close escrow until the premises are vacant, locks changed with evidence of that provided by the seller!

    We are going through this right now with two of our homes (and no, we are not career landlords - we have just moved a lot and didn't have time or energy to sell homes). 

    If at all possible, don't close until all tenants have left. We just moved to a new area where there are many new people buying up homes and probably half of them are facing a similar situation. For some buyers, with the timing of the pandemic and relief, it can turn ugly.

    First off, you're probably going to need to get a lawyer involved. My sister is a real estate agent and attorney; she couldn't even help us. We had to suck it up and pay $7-$10K to get an attorney, for each respective house/situation (two different states). Keep in mind right now through June 30 ( I don't believe it's been extended as of yet), there's a moratorium in place where renters do not have to leave (or pay rent) until then. In the event that the moratorium doesn't  get extended, you're still going to have a legal issue on your hands. Why? Because it's very pro-tenant rights at this time. Be prepared for this and a 6 to 12 month battle to get the tenant out. I am all about tenant's rights, and I know many have come upon hard times. The problem is, there's many tenants taking advantage of the situation (one of ours just paid cash for their Tesla but they somehow can't come up with any rent money to pay us since last April).

    The common suggestion we received is to cut off the electricity. It seems like your situation could have a good argument for this. As in you don't need to move in right away and you're doing renovations. But be careful. We know a lot of friends/colleagues who have recently gone down this road and it usually ends up in court and the tenant wins. I AM NOT GIVING LEGAL ADVICE; I am just letting you know that you're not the only one going through this (it can seem very lonely and frustrating) and that at this time, cross every "T" and dot every "i." Be ready for 6-12 months of frustration. I would say don't do this alone because again, it might end up in court. Change the locks in the meantime. It won't solve the problem but it can help. 

    You definitely need a lawyer.  Your agent/broker should be helping you on this. 

    Get an attorney familiar with tenant/landlord laws ASAP! You can probably do a Ellis Act eviction. The eviction process will be very complicated and time consuming. Should not have closed escrow until property was vacant. 

    Yikes. Given Berkeley's rent control laws this is a potentially nightmare scenario. Absolutely DO NOT CLOSE ESCROW until the house is empty and you have keys to the house with locks changed. If you have already closed, consult an attorney familiar with Berkeley's rent control laws immediately. Unless the attorney says I must, I would absolutely not put any utilities in my name until the step-daughter has left the premises.

    I own a few rental properties in other states, so am not familiar with California norms, but personally yes, I would 100% hire an attorney right away and work through them. Everything you describe points to the fact that this person isn't going to move out of their own volition. These situations can take a long time to resolve, even in more "landlord friendly" states, so I think it makes perfect sense to engage an attorney ASAP. 

    When we had a similar issue in Berkeley the realtor arranged for the Alameda County Sheriff to be present when the locks were changed. Thankfully the "squatter" was not there at the time and never returned.

    My 2 cents: I would talk with her first to see exactly where things stand. Then, I definitely advise getting an attorney; this being Berkeley she is in all likelihood a tenant with eviction protections (see  And let’s say for a moment she’s not a tenant, it sounds like you need help in any case getting her to leave the property. I believe BPOA has referrals for attorneys that work on landlord issues.  Best of luck. 

    She is an "occupant" not a tenant. Clearly she has no legal rights to be there. It is suprising that the escrow is not contingent upon the delivery of an empty house.Any of the attorneys listed on the Berkeley Property Owners website could address this issue. Sorry you must incur more fees and expenses.

    We went through an amicable owner move-in situation in Oakland with a house that had renters in it a few years ago, and while the process turned out well for us, it still felt tricky to navigate the situation.

    Have you closed? If not, I would seriously reconsider the property or negotiating with the seller to put it on her to get the stepdaughter to move before you close.

    If you have closed, I would hire a good lawyer immediately, one who is well versed in tenant-renter laws in Berkeley. (Ours actually advised us not to buy our home because it was complicated, but we persisted and it all worked out.)

    Our lawyer advised us to do all communications through them. You have to be careful on this one. I don't think you can talk to the stepdaughter directly, unfortunately. If you really want to, get advice from your lawyer first on what you can and cannot say.

    If she has been living there, she unfortunately is likely to be considered a tenant with tenant's rights. There are certain tenant protections that also protect older renters, so you should definitely check with a good lawyer on how to proceed next.

    Best of luck! This is a tricky situation but one that can be navigated with good legal advice.

    That is too bad. For sure you need need a lawyer that deals with eviction issues. Rent Control is super hard on owners this days... It is true that you can offer her " cash for keys". It is a pretty unfair situation, it should have been address before you closed on the purchased at least an agreement...

    Good luck!

    She isn't a squatter, she is a hold-over tenant and has all of the rights of a tenant whether she pays rent or not. Therefore, don't shut off utilities while she is still there. You definitely need to consult with a landlord tenant attorney. It sounds like you have already closed escrow? If so you bought the property subject to her tenancy. If you haven't closed maybe it is not too late to negotiate that you get a credit from the seller to cover your legal fees to evict her because it sounds like it is going to come to that.

    This should all have been in the disclosure. If the sale is not completed, consider backing out.

    If it's completed, an attorney is your best path forward. Do not do anything until you engage an attorney - don't talk to her until you talk to an attorney, who will coach you on how to communicate. You'll have to strictly follow their advice to make sure you're doing everything legally. 

    There's likely a very long road ahead, even if everything is in your favor. We had friends in a different but similar situation and it took years to resolve. In their case, there were mental health issues involved too. 

    wow - yes, hire an attorney, perhaps call the police to evict the squatter. And, yes, turn off the utilities, including water. And if none of this spurs her to leave, it's time to get nasty.

    doable.  but run, don't walk to an attorney.  this should not even be a question.  do you question using a dentist for root canal?  get a competent attorney and let them handle this and do it before you say one word to this woman.  that's a crazy slippery slope you don't want to touch with a ten food well intended pole.  best of luck!  

    It sounds like op already closed on the house so they are past the point of making it a condition with escrow.  Yes, you are going to have to hire a lawyer and I guarantee its going to take more time, money and energy than you would have liked. That is why the other buyers fell through. And why presumably you were able to buy the house at a discount. Now you can put that money towards contractors and legal fees. Hopefully you negotiated a good price with the seller so that all these costs don’t exceed the house’s market value. 

    I would not take any action on the house or with this woman without first specifically clearing your plan with a lawyer. Its probably fine to put the utilities in your name but not to shut them off though I wouldn’t assume the seller is giving you good advice (they already sold you a house that is adversely possessed by their estranged family member!). No one here can tell you what property rights this woman has even if they had a similar situation, even in Berkeley. This totally fact-specific and  will largely depend on the woman’s claims/ defenses. Quite frankly, its a quagmire.

  • My family and I have decided to move to Europe where my wife's family is from and we're looking to rent our unfurnished single family 3/2 home in Oakland (Dimond District). Because we won't be local we have decided to go with a property management company to manage the day-to-day things that might pop up. We're hoping to tap into the collective knowledge of the BPN! If you currently rent your home do you have any words of advice for us? Particularly things that you wish you would have known before you started becoming a landlord? Do you have a property management company that you love and would recommend? I'm a little put off by all the fees that we see from the property management companies and also am nervous about the potential lag time between tenants when we would be on the hook for the mortgage. We obviously would like to maximize how much rent we can collect while at the same time finding a long term tenant who would take care of the house. I appreciate any and all advice!

    We have two houses we inherited from grandparents and now rent. Since you are moving to Europe, I would recommend you use a property management company as you will need someone local to deal with any issues that come up with your rental. If you have a yard, I would recommend that you charge a little more rent and hire a gardener to come every other week or at least once a month. Also, the first year you are with the property management company, you should be in contact  with them frequently to make sure everything is set up properly. If you have a long term tenant, I would recommend that you have the property management company do a walk through every few years and take some pictures to send to you so you know what kind of updates are needed to the house. Put a small amount of money aside each month for updates. Also, if you know a good handyperson and you have a larger project, it's cheaper if you send in your own person rather than using the property management company, but the property management company is great for emergencies. 

    We currently use The Cal Agents as our property management company and have been happy with them. We had a horrible experience with the company we used prior. I have found The Cal Agents to be very receptive to my e-mails (our previous property management company often didn't respond to my messages).  They also did a great job finding new tenants. We had a tenant who was going through some hard times due to Covid and vacated unexpectedly The Cal Agents worked hard to find us a new tenant, with excellent references in three weeks. 

    Property Management Services - The Cal Agents Real Estate

    We used ZipRent to rent out our house 2 years ago. They took photos, listed the property and advised us on pricing. We had to do the showings ourselves but they did the credit checks on applicants. Overall, they have been very responsive and we have been quite satisfied with the services they have provided at an affordable cost.

  • Becoming landlords: BPOA? EBRHA? Both?

    (2 replies)


    We are building an addition to our home on Berkeley, with the intention of renting it before our son moves back to Berkeley and will live there.  We have heard that renting in Berkeley can be a headache, and two different organizations have been recommended for help and advice: Berkeley Property Owners Association (BPOA), and East Bay Rental Housing Association (EBRHA).  If you’re a member, or considered membership, in either or both which did you decide on and why?  We’re new enough at this that it’s not clear whether one is “better” than the other, or whether they offer different things and we should just do both. Any thoughts about the organizations or their comparison?  Thanks.

    I joined BPOA last year when I was in a similar situation. I joined mainly for their forms database. As I've learned more about BPOA, I've decided not to renew. It's dominated by the larger landlords and they push ideas and policies that I disagree with (e.g., fighting attempts to fund our schools, not supporting housing growth sufficiently, etc.).

    They do have meetings that a new landlord might find helpful, but I bet EBRHA has the same. I don't actually know much about EBRHA, so can't really compare the two.

    yes, you are wise to educate yourself as cities and the state have made it more and more difficult to be a property manager and invite tenants into your home. You should be aware that once you have tenants there are certain rights that you essentially give up as a single-family home owner. I have found that the classes and online forms for standard leases and guidance are excellent at East Bay rental housing association.

  • Hello! I plan to start renting out a vacant in-law unit in Oakland. My husband and I are first-time landlord and we are intimidated by the process. We live in the main unit with a baby, so we want to be selective with our tennants. We are seeking recommendations for:

    1. Any legal service that helps us navigate the Oakland's rental regulations and proof-read our draft lease;

    2. Property management service that charges a one-time fee setting up the rental, doing the screening, and showing the in-law unit. 

    3. Alternatively, if you are a landlord in a similar situation, could you share your experiences going through this process? I would be happy to talk over phone or buy you a coffee for your two cents.

    Thank you in advance for offering your advice!

    I recommend East Bay Rental Housing Association. We use their leases and their tenant screening service. We do our own marketing (post on Craigslist), showings, and maintenance.

    There are property management companies out there, we just prefer to minimize costs. 

    Good luck to you.

    Before hiring anyone to help and DEFINITELY before renting, visit the Oakland Rent Board and make sure you understand their regulations frontwards and backwards.  If Oakland is anything like Berkeley, you don’t want to go into it without very firm knowledge of your responsibilities and the tenant rights in your city (and State; some of those will apply too).  Good luck.

    A few years ago I began renting my condo in Berkeley.  I was relieved to be referred to the East Bay Rental Housing Association.  There you will find people who can answer your questions, and all the forms you will ever need to do a lease, specific to each county and city.  They update the forms regularly, and update their members with changes in laws.  There is an annual membership fee, around $250, and it is well worth it to have this service. Good luck!

    It is better, in my opinion, to handle the rentals yourself. That way, you start forming a relationship from the very beginning. Then use the East Bay Rental Housing Association lease. I think people are more likely to be cooperative if you have a good relationship with them. Feel free to contact me through my user name  if you would like to chat. 

  • I'm helping make a decision whether the risks and costs associated with becoming a landlord in Berkeley are worth it as opposed to leaving a house empty for a year.  The place will only be empty for a year and the owners will absolutely need to move back then.  I heard scary horror stories about people's experiences being landlords in Berkeley and that getting tenants out after a lease is often tough and very expensive if they don't want to move at end of lease and that evictions take forever etc.  Many recommended avoiding becoming landlords at all costs!  It seems like a waste (and expensive, due to lost rental income) to just leave the place empty for a year, but if the horror stories are true it seems that any income will potentially be eaten up by damage and attorney fees and costs to rent alternative housing while dealing with evictions, etc.  Anyone who was away from home for about a year or slightly more made the decision to not rent out the home and instead leave it vacant to avoid these issues?    

    I had a similar situation in San Francisco. I chose to do short term rentals. Although in retrospect I think that I’d try to find slightly longer term renters such as a professor coming for a sabbatical, short term corporate housing, or a family doing a house remodel. I’d probably leave a buffer of 1-2 months between the last renter’s last day and your return day. 

    hey there --

    we didn't know this at the time (only found out after our former tenants sued us for evicting them to return back to our house as owner-move-in, and had to talk to a lawyer, etc.) -- but there is a clause in leases that specifically states that owners have previously occupied home and will have right of return. I don't remember the exact language. Ironically, we had asked the property manager if we should disclose that we might (it was uncertain) return to our home, and she advised us against it as she thought would impede rental. But, if you find a short term tenant (some people are looking for low commitment leases) -- you could have this explicit in your lease. Leaving a house empty sounds unfortunate and risky. Sorry don't know how that clause/option is worded, but sure that you can google/do some research to clarify.

    I also want to know the answers.

    Two ideas: rent to a family who is renovating their own home. They'll be ready to move out when their home is ready. Rent to university-associated people who will only be in town for one year.

    First, I highly recommend consulting with a landlord attorney ASAP.

    Second, I would suggest you familiarize yourself with Berkeley Municipal Code 13.76.130.A.10 (which describes one particular "just cause" eviction, reproduced below), as well as the new statewide rent control rules coming into force in 2020.

    I don't believe there is a way to guarantee that tenants won't fight hard against an eviction or cause damage, but there does seem to be some landlord rights available. Again, speak to a local landlord attorney ASAP (I am not one).

    13.76.130.A.10.    A landlord or lessor seeks in good faith to recover possession of the rental unit for his/her occupancy as a principal residence, where the landlord or lessor has previously occupied the rental unit as his/her principal residence and has the right to recover possession of the unit for his/her occupancy as a principal residence under an existing rental agreement with the current tenants.


    Yes, we left a house vacant in Berkeley for over a year for the exact reasons you describe. For just one year, I don’t think the risks of renting outweigh the benefit of rental income in your situation. Unfortunately. 

    Under California law, even Berkeley rent control,  homeowner can rent out a room in their room to a "Lodger".As long as the owner shares common areas with the lodger, the lodger is not an legal  tenant. The owner may select the age and sex of the lodger, and can make the lodger move out at the end of lease, or even just with proper notice.

    This might be an option for your friend, since no good cause for eviction is required if the lodger doesn't want to leave.

    Your friend is prudent to be careful.

    Rent it out to a professor on sabbatical or some graduate students who will need//want to leave.   Go through Cal Rentals or or the like.

    I don't have advice on renting versus leaving vacant - but if you do consider renting and are concerned about ensuring tenants are only staying for one year, consider posting at These are viewed by academics across the world who are only planning on staying a set period of time.

    In my experience, if you are very clear with prospective tenants that the house is available for rental for only one year, that the lease is not offered for renewal, and that the owner intends to reoccupy as their primary residence at the end of the lease term, your risk is very small.  I put this language in my lease, so that there is a written proof that both parties agreed to these terms.  It's never been challenged and I've never had a tenant abuse our agreement.  

    You could list on sabbatical homes and only take a visiting professor or better yet a person with an iron clad visa who will have to leave.  You can make it work. I think the risk would be greater to leave it empty. Various sovereign citizen factions have been known to squat in vacant houses and do all the paperwork to transfer property over to their corporate identity or a trust .  These folks are smart and do outrageous things-and get away with it.

    You might want to try a trade instead. 

    Yes, it can be a problem to get your home back. Is it a single-family home? Or is there a cottage in the backyard or other dwelling on the property? With a single-family, you do have more rights. 

    If they do decide to rent, make sure the move-out date is in the lease. And state that the owners will move back in and use it as their primary residence on the next day. If the tenants sign this, they know they have to leave. In addition, the Rent Board is more likely to recognize the agreement if it is clearly stated. Then do not extend the lease for any reason!!!! Both parties need to stick to the agreement.

    Make sure they have someone in town to manage the property. 

    Have you used the UC Berkeley Housing listerv?  There are many visiting professors on a clear 1-year sabbatical.  While some can be extended, there are definitely folks who have commitments to return to, who are definitely here for a single year.  There are also situations like a family who is renovating their own home who need a 6-8 mo lease.  You CAN be picky about who you rent to, and ensure it's a situation where they will vacate as expected.  This also ensures the home stays clean and functional (not-great things can happen when heat, water, etc. aren't regularly run) and you reduce risk of vandalism, theft, or vagrants.  A home left vacant for 6 mo in our neighborhood had squatters break in - and getting them out and fixing the damage was crazy-expensive.

    Why don’t you try to rent it to a professor on sabbatical?  You can get references verify their situation.  They will need to go back to wherever they usually live after the year is up.  Choose someone on leave from a permanent, ladder-rank job elsewhere, rather than a post-doc, say, who may not yet have plans for the following year. 

    Call Berkeley Property Owners Association, 2041 Bancroft Way, Berkeley - 510.525=3666.

    We own a duplex in Berkeley and have attended their meetings to get info and also called the number to get some guidance.  

    Good luck

    We have had a negative experience ourselves that involved renting a room in a home shared with my then 75 year old mother, and yet I would probably still consider renting again. I would just take more precautions than I did the first time. We were completely naive, having faith in our own discernment about human character, and unfortunately in Berkeley, that's just not going to cut it. Despite this experience, I still believe that MOST renters are honest, want to take good care of the place in which they live, and all will benefit. 

    You probably already know what you need to do: run a thorough rental and financial background check; know your rights as a landlord and your tenant rights; even make a visit to the Rent Control Board and ask questions about what some warning signs might be. I'm not sure if you can still private message someone, but I can tell you in more detail what we learned--at some financial expense and mental anguish--from the experience and consulting with a local real estate attorney. Best, former landlord (just sold our house this week!) 

    I've heard horror stories too; the risks associated with renting one's house out for the year in Berkeley are indeed great. However, one of the ways you can mitigate the risks substantially is to rent the home to someone who is on sabbatical for the year - being careful to avoid a certain west coast man who is notorious for serially abusing this situation. You can look into what services UC Berkeley and LBNL offer to their visiting professors and scientists. There is also a sabbatical website where you can post or seek such tenants. Research the person/people carefully before signing anything. 

    Another thing that I know people have done is to let trusted friends stay there for the year.

    I left my home in Berkeley for 3-6 months/year for over 10 years and rented out my house using a short-term contract. My tenants lived in other states or countries and were here short-term. I had no problems.

    While a year is perhaps different, it may line up beautifully with a sabbatical family. 

    If you are clear about the dates, and have a contract, there should not be a problem. 

    Cal has a housing network for sabbatical professors coming to Berkeley for a year. 

    I used Craigslist exclusively but haven’t rented my house in over 10 years. 

    You could also hire a local property manager to help with emergencies, maintenance, etc. They take a cut of the rent.

    Good Luck!

    The simplest solution to knowing that you only want to rent for one year in any city, is to specify in the lease that you are doing a 1-year TERM LEASE, that does not revert to "MONTH-TO-MONTH" when the 1 year is up.  This is different than a 1 year lease, which does revert to a month-to-month if you do not supply a new lease after the first year.  You have to be very clear with the tenant that this is what you are doing.  That they are going to move out in one year.  This is a little-known "loophole."

    I understand the anxiety about a bad experience, but leaving a place vacant also carries risk and zero benefits to you or the wider community. We have a small in-law unit under our house and took our time to find an ideal tenant. 

    In Berkeley I think there are some great places to find temporary lodgers - I know that the family housing for students (located in Albany) has a lot of students transitioning from finishing degrees to finding jobs who might be interested in a one-year rental since they can't live there after they graduate, but many have kids enrolled in schools nearby and want to minimize their transitions. Our cat-sitter when we lived in Oakland was a student at the Pacific School of Religion and stayed in our house while we were away one summer - she was exactly the kind of person you'd leave to care for your space for 3 months, extremely trustworthy and thoughtful.

    Be clear with the time period the home is available for, advertise strategically to find people who would be a good fit, look for references or even look within your network - and give a good deal to anyone you think is truly the ideal renter, because it's worth it to make a little less than you could if you have peace of mind (we rent for about 2/3 market value to our current tenant). 

    This is an excellent question! I know people move away and rent out their house for a year or so and then move back in successfully, so there must be a way to do this. I would be very careful about whom you select to rent your house... perhaps a visiting professor on sabbatical or someone from outside the US who is moving here temporarily for a job. If you rent to a family with school age children, there could be problems evicting them during the school year. I also would consult with a very good real estate attorney, who can probably write a lease in such a way as to minimize any problems. AirBnB could also be a good option. Rent control laws have made it difficult for small time landlords to operate, and this is one of the reasons many owners are taking rental units off the market (which decreases the housing stock and drives up rents) and turning to short term rentals such as AirBnB. It's too risky and potentially expensive to have to pay tenants to leave. Good luck! I hope you find a way to make this work. 

    I encourage you to rent the home.  But... carefully.  Get a lawyer.  Get a Berkeley specific contract.  Vet your tenants, and make sure they are structurally unlikely to stay, but stick within the bounds of the non-discrimination laws (you are aware the City is working on a plan to prohibit owners from making background checks on tenants, right?  This seems to be an initiative of the Mayor and Councilmember Davila primarily).  Be careful, as you can be sued for discrimination, and there are sting operations where workers poised as tenants will approach you based on postings. Keep in mind that tenants over age 65 have even greater protections, should you try to enforce a lease term.

    I know many others choose not to get into the danger game and leave property empty.  But there are downsides there too for the health of the house, the neighborhood, and the housing market.  Consider that by offering housing, you're helping to lower the housing pressure, and thus to lower costs for new entrants to the market.  Remember that existing tenants are not affected: in Berkeley rent increases are caped at 65% of the cost of living increase.


    My family was heavily impacted by an overstaying tenant.  What was supposed to be 3 months has turned into 23 years and counting.  My parents were unable to move into the accessible part of their own home, when that time came.  And now the tenant is a year and half behind on rent payments, and there's no end in sight.  Remember that tenants get a free legal team, paid for by housing providers, but as a housing provider you get to pay all your own costs, and can't even recover costs if you win.

    If you develop a new Accessory Dwelling Unit you have some legal protection from Measure Q -- but watch out.  You'll need to ensure as you get older that whoever is caring for the estate evicts the tenants before you yourself need to move to assisted living.  If you die, or move for any reason, the rent board swoops in and controls the unit, and you won't be able to get the tenant out for love or money.  Be sure to start the eviction procedure well in advance of your death or move to assisted living, as it takes a while.  Allow 3-6 months, and budget $15-25,000.  That's less than a year's rent for most whole houses, so you should be fine.

    Of course that's a fixed fee, in the case of my parents the tenant was paying $450/month at the time.  Just make sure your rent is high enough to pay for the potential legal costs.  Be extra wary of renting lower cost units, as the dangers are higher, but the rewards are much lower.  Except the social rewards: just chalk it up to good will, and provide housing for those who can't otherwise afford it.  If you can afford alternative housing, then why not contribute to society, by offering a place to a tenant who may have nowhere else to go?

    Thank you so much for the responses.  I did not consider the risks of leaving the property vacant so really appreciate the posters who raised it as an issue.  We decided to not rent it out but let family members (and other few the owners trust completely) to use it as weekend/temporary place to have access to the bay area when needed for free in exchange for them watching out for the place, dealing with mail and any issues, etc. as it seemed like the best and safest solution.   

  • Hi, 

    We are first-time landlords (rented our backyard cottage after building one), and are seeking recommendations for a smart, knowledgeable, experienced and hopefully fast person to help with our taxes in this new chapter of our lives. We’re retired, so no “big deal” financial issues or amounts, but are completely inexperienced at what can & can’t be deducted re: costs to build, maintain, etc.; very small landlords!  (The readings we’ve done left us with almost more questions than answers). If you’ve used such a person for your taxes now that you’re a landlord, would you recommend them?  What was their charge?  Thanks for your recommendations.

    I rent rooms in my home and I rent a vacation home that I built.  I have used private tax preparers and those at HR Block.  Currently I am using the senior preparers at HR Block Temescal and I find them all exceeding knowledgeable and competent--many had careers in finance or accounting and later learned tax law.  You bring in your records and they will talk you through it and prepare your taxes.  If you want to talk to me offline ask the moderator for my contact information.  Best, Small time landlord.

  • Property manager for novice landlords

    (2 replies)

    Recently my husband and I ended up as co-owners of a 3BR 2.5BA townhouse in Hercules, after buying out his former co-owner.  We’ve never been in the position of landlord before, and we’ll need to rent this place out (it’s currently vacant) in order to afford to keep it.  The rental market is so complex and our investment in this property is significant, so it just seems like a reliable and trustworthy property manager would be well worth the cost.  Any recommendations would be much appreciated.  

    A property manager will cost you up to 20% of your monthly rent - if that's a number you can do, super! If not, it's not brain surgery to be a landlord - I highly recommend the Nolo books on Tenant/Landlord agreements for all the current information and of course research your city's rental code. Good luck!

    I would highly recommend Frank Hennefer. He just helped us rent our place. He does the background checks, sets up the viewings, and is also a property manager. He is very knowledgeable and an all around nice guy. You can contact him at (510) 485-7235 and fhennefer [at]

  • Hello, 

    Wondering if anyone has a template for a landlord leasing a single family home in Berkeley that you would be open to sharing? 

    Thank you!


    The voters of Berkeley passed the Rent Stabilization Act in the late nineteen-seventies, and although rental price controls do not apply to single family homes generally, the eviction for good cause provision does apply, even to single family homes. Please do not use a template or canned form for this serious undertaking. When you rent out property you are essentially giving the tenant a loan of the fair market value of your home. Please consult a landlord/owners attorney who is familiar with Berkeley Property, or talk to Michael St. John, a consultant for landloards/property owners. The website for the Berkeley Property owners Association may be useful. I am an attorney and a property owner. Trust me.

    Join AOA or another rental-focused group.  I believe the membership fee is around $80/year.  Monthly magazine, legal advice, a credit-checking tool, and all the forms you need for CA rentals.  That way you get current, legally vetted forms that are custom-made for each city's rent control laws, instead of possibly questionable hand-me-downs, or generic CA rental forms.  And the membership fee is an allowable expense.

  • Interested in others' recent experience with working with a realtor or broker to buy a small (2-4 unit, less than $1.5 million) apartment complex in the East Bay. How much work is it once fully leased up? How hot is that market right now? We'd be looking in Albany north, maybe as far as central Contra Costa County, but not as owner-occupants (at least not in the near future). Any buyers' realtor recommendations for this niche? Thanks!

    Sorry, I don't have any answers for you, but you may want to checkout There's lots of expertise there and maybe some folks from the Bay Area can chime in. I don't have any relationship with that website, just looked around and found it to be helpful when exploring this possibility for myself. I think it's pretty legit and well regarded for real estate investors.

Parent Reviews

Before you rent out your home, you should really do your research. Depending on the laws in Berkeley, you may have to pay your renters relocation fee to reclaim your home. In Richmond and San Francisco, these can be into the 5 digits and it may take many months or even a full year to do an "owner move-in eviction"  It is much more difficult to relocate someone who is elderly or disabled - more time and more money. Right now, Berkeley is rent controlled. While rent control itself, does not apply to single family homes, eviction laws do.  It is not enough to have a lease and then simply not renew it. Find out exactly how and under what circumstances you will be able to legally ask your renters to leave.

Also the state law that exempts single family homes from rent control will likely be challenged in the fall election in a measure being touted as "state wide rent control" - totally inaccurate BTW.  However, exemptions (like single family homes) in rent controlled areas (like Berkeley) are definitely at risk of coming under these incredibly punitive laws.

Additionally, since rent control involves an expensive bureaucracy, the Berkeley Rent Program will charge you for renting. I don't know how they do it in Berkeley but in Richmond we pay an inspection fee, a rent program fee, a business license fee all are annual. The Berkeley Rent program is one place for answers, Berkeley Property Owners Association is another. 

Good luck

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Making in-law a legal rental unit

Nov 2013

We just bought a home in Berkeley with an in-law unit. I am wondering if anyone has experience going through the City of Berkeley to get an in-law made into a legal permitted rental unit and if you'd be willing to share your experience and any advice? Thanks! Wondering about making our in-law unit a legal rental unit

Hi, I'm pretty sure that if you are living in the house, the rental unit does not come under the Rent Board. It's the same, I think, as if you are living in your home and renting out a room. Good luck. Owner-occupied doesn't count?

I believe the previous answer to your question is incorrect. If the dwelling is in Berkeley, your in-law unit would be subject to rent control, including 'just cause for eviction' regulations, paying interest on your tenant's deposit annually, etc. I did not see the original question, but if this unit has a separate entrance and there is no co-mingling of the interior with your part of the house (sharing a bathroom or a kitchen, for example), then it is not like renting a room in your house. There are a few quirky exemptions from rent control: one is if you are making a previously uninhabitable space into a rental unit (such as converting a garage or an attic into an apartment), another is the so-called 'golden duplex' rule. A golden duplex in Berkeley is when the owner of a two-unit property has lived in one unit as a principal residence and it has been owner-occupied since 12/31/1979 (it need not be the same owner), then the other unit is exempt from rent control. Single family dwellings are also exempt from rent control (but still subject to interest on deposits and just cause for eviction regulations), unless it has 4 or more bedrooms and each bedroom is rented out under separate contracts, like a rooming house. I find the Berkeley Rent Board website to be very helpful, especially their FAQ section: Becky

I didn't see the original post, only the one reply which said that rent control may not apply. I would be VERY cautious about this. Again, not seeing the post, I don't know where the home is, but Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco have very strict tenant friendly laws. I know in SF if the unit has a separate entrance, even if it is in your home, it is considered a rental unit subject to SF rent control ordinance. You should definitely check with a seasoned landlord-tenant attorney OR scour the applicable local ordinance thoroughly before making any kind of conversion or taking ANY money or other kind of consideration for renting out the unit. Once you have done so, you are subject to laws regarding rent control, eviction, health and safety etc, regardless of whatever kind of agreement (written or otherwise)you have with the tenant. It can be very expensive and frustrating trying to evict a tenant for anything other than non-payment of rent, and landlords have very strict standards of habitability with which they must comply. I'd be cautious.

About MAYBE renting-out a large home in Berkeley?

March 2013

We own a unique property near the University of California that we might / maybe / if-we-feel-secure-about-it rent, but we can't figure-out how to avoid get entangled in Berkeley's punitive 'rent control.' And we will not be willing to rent to a student-type group to avoid possibility of an 'animal-house' developing. Our property is a large 100%-new building (structure meets-or-exceeds current seismic requirements). There are large, well-appointed public spaces (living room, dining room, kitchen, ... ), nice gardens, and several bedrooms; each bedroom has a bath. We're trying to think of a way to rent our very nice property, rather than just leaving it empty (locked-up tight, with alarms), that will not turn into a dreadfully stressful situation! So, because we're stumped, we're hoping someone has suggestions ...

You have options! Some ideas:

- Rent rooms via AirBnB or Vacation Rentals by Owner. I know three people in Berkeley who do this quite profitably. This is running a business and might be more maintenance than you want but if you put some systems into place, it should run smoothly. You could have someone live there and run the business for you. I can recommend a couple reliable, trustworthy and enthusiastic people.

- Contact a few organizations and schools in our area that have regular coferences and meetings to be one of the 'go to' accommodations. I can suggest a couple.

- Rent it the traditional way. I don't think your single family home rental falls under the rent control laws. (I will have to confirm.) Landlording also is a business and requires some work but if you choose your tenants carefully, it should go well.

I am a Realtor, my partner is a Realtor, and we have property management experience.

Dear Stumped, As a Realtor with 25 years experience in Berkeley, I can tell you that no matter what anyone says, there is no safe way around Berkeley Rent Control. If you rent out your home and avoid registering it with the rent board, you will end up in even more hot water. I have no affiliation with the rent board -- I am speaking strictly from my experience in representing the Sellers of homes that have been rented. However, I can also tell you that I have seen many, many Berkeley home owners rent their homes with very good results. There are a lot of wonderful people out there looking to lease homes, and if you are careful in your selection, it can work out well all around. Consider posting it with the Cal housing office -- their listings are only accessed by affiliates or alumnae, not by the general public. You might also consider renting to shorter-term VRBO visitors. If you call the rent board and ask to speak with a counselor, they are very personable and will help explain your options. Ask about the sabbatical exemption. Finally, if you have not been there yet, the City has great info about their rent control policies here: Best of luck! Holly

We are in a similar situation renting our home. I had a lot of concerns and anxieties. I can recommend David Eckert at Coldwell Banker. He is honest, patient and will get the right renter for you. 510-339-4720 david [at] license #r01239021 Apprehensive Homeowner

Contact a property management company and ask these questions. Our landlord has managed to be selective and explicitly avoid rent control by using one. Doesn't feel great as a renter to not have any rent control. But she is very fair and has been able to keep long term non 'animal house' tenants in her properties. (all nice North Berkeley homes). Good luck. I'm sure there is a family who would be thrilled to find a nice home to rent. Renter without rent control

Try to find really nice tenants. You won't regret it suzymc

Berkeley Rent Control does not apply to single family homes. From their website:

Single-family homes rented after 1/1/96 are exempt from rent control; therefore, the landlord may increase your rent once your lease expires. However, if the rent increase is more than 10%, CA Civil Code section 827 requires that he give you a 60-day notice before the increase can go into effect (30 days' notice is required for increases of 10% or less).

Eviction controls do apply; you cannot evict without good cause. However, with 60 days notice you can raise the rent to exorbitant levels, thus forcing the tenants out.

As far as getting good tenants, I would recommend a couple of things. Make sure the home is in tip top shape. Clean up. Put all your personal stuff in storage. Make repairs. Paint and spruce up anything that needs it. Have someone with a critical eye and disposition come in and make suggestions. You may have to hire someone, friends and family to not like to be so negative.

Then, if you set the rent a bit low, you will have many people applying and you can choose who you like. In order to figure out the rent, looks at ads on craigslist for your area (within just a few blocks if possible). It is even better if you can actually go look at the places to rent and compare them to yours. Premium Properties may be able to help. I used them years ago.

Good luck! Make sure that you do a credit check and get a good lease. Anon

It's very possible your house will not be covered by rent control. Post-1980 construction (if it didn't replace existing residential housing) is exempt. Single-family homes with new tenants are mostly exempt. The only way to find out for sure is to contact the Rent Board. I have friends who work there. You might be surprised at the level and quality of service.

Whether or not you're exempt from rent control, you will want to protect yourself (your property) with careful tenant screening, a good lease and on-the- ball management. Anon

I am not sure that you thought carefully about the question or the audience before you posted your question. I am also surprised that this listserve even let you post the question and would consider posting answers. Perhaps you don't live in Berkeley which is why I want to give you the benefit of the doubt. What it looks like to me is that you are asking for advise about how to circumvent a municipal Law, which constitutes a crime. I am sorry that you find Berkeley's rent control laws so onerous. If you don't like the law either work to refine it or consider owning property elsewhere. annonymous

I conducted research into legal cases arising out of the Berkeley Rent Control Law many years ago. I am not up-to-date now, but suggest looking on the website of the Berkeley Property Owners Association and/or contacting Michael St. John (an economist who studies that law extensively) Not to scare you, but there were cases in the nineties where owners rented out their home to go on sabbatical, and the 'just cause for eviction' law did not permit them to return without a legal fight. Lynn

UC Berkeley has a rental listing service for faculty, staff, and visiting scholars (e.g., on sabbatical) only. You might consider listing it there. Katy

You can also try listing at (different from I'm no expert, but I believe rules may be different if the property is actually your primary residence, which you will be moving back into, as opposed to being held as a rental property. going on sabbatical

I would like to respond to annonymous, who said:

What it looks like to me is that you are asking for advise about how to circumvent a municipal Law, which constitutes a crime. I am sorry that you find Berkeley's rent control laws so onerous. If you don't like the law either work to refine it or consider owning property elsewhere. annonymous

'Circumventing' a law is not necessarily a crime. Most laws are extremely complicated and there are often ways around them. For instance, what if I wanted to teach my ten year-old to drive? I cannot do that legally on city streets, but I can do that legally on private property. So while circumventing the law, I am doing nothing illegal.

And in regards to the law being onerous. It is indeed onerous. For instance, it is very difficult to get rid of criminals due to rent control. Somehow, current tenants are more important than anybody else. They are protected no matter what they do. Both neighbors and landlords have their hands tied.

The law also favors sitting tenants. Many people could benefit from low-cost housing, but those who have it are somehow more important than those who don't. This makes no sense to me.

And last, why is the landlord's responsibility to subsidize tenants no matter how rich or poor they may be? Grocery stores are not required to provide food for the hungry. Why should property owners be required to provide housing for the rich?

If the people of Berkeley feel the need to help poor people with housing, then it seems to me that everyone should be taxed and tenants should have to document a lack of funds. The system we have now is nuts, and there is little anyone can do to fix it. People have tried over and over.

Some of the hardest hit people are students. While long-term tenants commute to San Jose or use their apartment for a pied-a-terre after they have moved away, students have a difficult time finding reasonably priced housing near campus. And since a vacant apartment rents at market rate, students pay full price.

In short, I think rent control causes more problems than it solves. Perhaps you love the protection it provides for you. But I wonder why you deserve it more than someone else. Anon

Short term rentals of our duplex in Berkeley

Oct 2012

Hello, My wife and I will soon have a vacant lower unit in a 2-unit house that we would like to rent out. We will be living in the upper unit. We are interested in doing some sort of short term rental arrangement for a variety of reasons. Most importantly being that our plan is to some day convert the home into a single-family and we don't want to have to deal with getting long term tenants out when we want to do this. I've seen many listing online for short term rentals in Berkeley. I'm wondering if anyone has any experience doing this, and the easiest way to manage such a unit. I'm curious to know if such units are governed by the Berkeley Rent Board in any way. Any advice or insight is greatly appreciated. anon

Disclaimer: I am not an attorney! However, I have had a lot of experience with the Berkeley rental market, I have held workshops with speakers from the Rent Board & I do my best to stay on top of Berkeley-only regulations when it comes to rentals. That being said, the answer to your question about whether your duplex unit is exempt from rent control is a big 'maybe'. Only certain 'golden' duplexes are exempt, and the rule is too lengthy to go into here. Check the FAQs on exemptions on the Rent Board website, and scroll about half- way down the page for your answer: AQs_Exemptions.aspx

Since you have been renting out the downstairs for some time already, I assume you are aware that the rent you collect is income and therefore taxable to you, but you get certain deductions because a rental is treated differently from your own home. (It's surprising how many people who rent to tenants are unaware of this.) And, whether or not the unit is exempt from basic Rent Control, I am fairly certain that you are still subject to the 'just cause for eviction' regulation and you still must pay your tenant annual interest on the deposit monies you are holding. Becky

For whatever it's worth . . . in the last 2 years, my wife and I have used six times as short-term renters . . . everything from one night in New York to two months in Portland, and we have been very satisfied each time . . . as renters. If we had a unit to rent (and we will next June), we would seriously consider either them, or their well-reviewed competitor, (vacation rental by owner). (I just checked, and there were 178 listings on airbnb in and around Berkeley, ranging from $30 a day to $700 a day.) John

I rent out a couple of furnished spaces in my house on a short term basis and have had the best luck in doing so using They coordinate the bookings and handle the money, which makes it all very easy, and I've had wonderful guests from all over the world. I provide everything the guest needs, including linens, but providing breakfast is not required. Cece

you might want to consider a rental to a visiting prof. at UC Berkeley. I think they have housing lists only open to visiting faculty here on sabbatical. that would be a potentially easy way to limit a renter's stay. You can track down the housing office for faculty on line. anonymous

Renting to tenant who is undocumented

April 2012

What are the legal ramifications, both theoretically and practically, of renting to a tenant who is undocumented? We are renting our downstairs granny flat in El Cerrito to our ex-nanny who is undocumented, and who has a 10 yr daughter who lives with her every other week and who is a US citizen. She pays her rent partly by babysitting, and partly monetarily. Should we reconsider? Realistically, how likely are we to get into trouble, if at all? renter

I'm not a lawyer, but I am very familiar with immigration issues and immigration law. In California, renting to an undocumented person carries no liabilities or legal ramifications for the landlord. Things are a bit different in the case of employers. You don't ask about this, but here you actually could ''get in trouble.'' Under federal law, employers break the law by ''knowingly'' hiring an undocumented worker. So, you could face legal issues to the extent that you are 'employing' your tenant when you have them babysit, even if you are 'paying' with reduced rent.

In reality, however, the chances of anyone going after you for knowingly hiring an undocumented migrant are miniscule. The federal government has very few workplace inspectors (relative to border control agents) and the inspectors go after large employers, not individuals who hire nannies, landscapers or day laborers.

If you are very concerned about this, your tenant could set up a legal entity (incorporate or establish a limited liability company) and you could contract for services through the company. This is a legal slight-of-hand to get around hiring an ''employee.'' But that seems like legal and bureaucratic overkill for your situation. immigration researcher

You ask about the legal ramifications of renting to your ex- nanny, who is undocumented, who pays you partly in cash, and partly through babysitting. This response is not legal advice but an overview of the legal landscape. As you may know, various cities (Escondido, Farmers Branch TX, Hazleton PA,) and states (Alabama, South Carolina) have tried to prohibit landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants as part of a strategy referred to as ''attrition through self-deportation,'' namely making life so difficult that people who are undocumented will leave. None of the city- created provisions have been allowed to stand and both of the state provisions are currently enjoined from being enforced. There are thus no legal ramifications of renting to someone who is undocumented - and, in fact, there are potential issues for landlords who in seeking to avoid undocumented tenants may be engaging in prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, etc. On the other hand, there *can* be, in theory, ramifications to employing someone who is undocumented because of the 1986 law Congress created called employer sanctions, although the practical likelihood of an individual getting in legal trouble for hiring a babysitter would be nil. The only issue is if a person plans to someday run for public office or is selected for some high government post (think Zoe Baird, Kimba Wood, Tim Geithner) and if accepting babysitting in exchange for rent is construed as employment (I note she is also described as your ''ex-nanny'' so you were also in a more clear employer/employee relationship with her in the past). Of course, Tim Geithner still got confirmed. Note also that if, like me, you understand the condition of being undocumented as not an individual moral failing but a symptom of a broken system, as well as a status that can be made and unmade by shifting legal regimes, you will respond with compassion. For many people who are currently undocumented it is impossible to do anything about their status, despite the claim that they should ''get in line'' with everyone else. They are here, often in mixed status families with U.S. citizen members, like your nanny, and in my book, we accept people who are undocumented as part of our community, push for future legalization programs, and in the interim, allow them to live with the kinds of rights and protections we would want to give to fellow human beings. immprof

We are landlords and as far as I know there is no requirement or even paperwork that is gathered that require citizenship or proof of legal residencey. Some landlords do a credit check or proof of income which implies these things but again that is not a legal requirement, just a choice. You can rent to whomever you want as long as you don't discriminate in selection. Anon

Landlord facing mold issues

Nov 2011

any advice or referrals for an experienced, landlord attorney? I have always been a responsible berkeley landlord caring for my home and the people living in it. Now dealing with tenant not paying rent due to mold? I have happily rented to this tenant for almost 3 years, have always agreeably adddressed the 2-3 issues that have come up during this time and now very stressed by unreasonable behavior. sincere

Habitability questions related to mold are difficult to quantify and even harder to prove and/or disprove. Join Berkeley Property Owners Association bpoa [at] because there is a lot of good advice available from other property owners about mold and other issues. Property owner

Tips on being a Landlord in Oakland

Sept 2010

We are planning to rent out our 2 bedroom house in Oakland at the end of the year and could really use some advise. We would like to rent it out ourselves to save some money. But if you think there is a compelling reason to get the help of a rental agency/property management co., please do let me know! These are just some of the questions that I can think of. I am sure there are more in the days to come: Are there certain must-dos we should be aware of? Where do you find the most comprehensive lease forms? Any pitfalls we should be aware of? Do you do credit checks? How? Any book/website recommendations? Where do you post your ad that yields high traffic? Craigslist? How did you determine your rent? thank you!

There are many, many ways to get yourself into trouble as a landlord in Oakland. You will be liable for any (made- up) violations of rental protocol, even if you didn't know about them. Part of your decision on whether to do it yourself or go w/rental agency is how much time & energy you are willing to commit to being a landlord--it takes a lot more than you probably realize.

As the owner of a owner-occupied duplex, if you are going to do it all yourself, I highly recommend joining RHANAC, which is the landlord association for Oakland & surrounding areas. They have the best leases & also can help with screening & alert you to the bevy of legal issues about being a landlord.

Or, if you don't want to be as directly involved with the headaches, go w/a leasing company! This is what I would recommend in your case, since you have only one property & the amount of time you will likely spend on reviewing laws, listing the rental, taking calls, prepping leases, fixing problems, etc. outweighs the payback of doing it yourself. once bitten twice shy

A lot depends on how much you can tolerate certain risk factors that may or may not arise. Can you easily fix things when they break, respond to tenant complaints, and handle problems such as late payments or non-payment of rent? What if one of the neighbors complains about excessive noise or the yard not being kept up? To me, a property manager's fee is well worth the peace of mind: the tenant selection, the assurance that rent is collected on time and any problems or repairs will be taken care of promptly. Plus, all your expenses pertaining to the rental are tax deductible, so while it is true you will get a bit more rent if you do everything yourself, it is really nice to have those polished property management records to turn over to your accountant come tax time!

The City of Oakland does have rent control and also eviction controls, but I forget whether they apply to single family dwellings. You can check with the City's website.

It wouldn't hurt to talk to two or three property management companies and see what they would do for you and how much they charge.

If you're convinced you can do it yourself, Nolo Press has books that can help: Becky

Maybe a property owners association would be helpful:

aoausa does credit checks:

Craigslist is good for listings. Be sure to include photos. You can also use UC Berkeley.

Determine rent level by visiting rentals in the area to see what they are asking and what they are renting for. Compare square footage, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, amenities such as fireplaces and outdoor space, etc.

You can probably do a better job than a rental agency, because you care more about your property. anon

We rented our studio cottage in lower Rockridge for 6 years or so...

I would say definitely craiglist is what worked best for us. We tried the UCB services but the response rate was a lot more slow than craiglist and the UCB students also responded to craiglist, so we ended up not doing UCB anymore.

To us there was no need to rent an agency but we did consult once in a while with friends who were real state agents, tax attorneys, etc.


Where do you find the most comprehensive lease forms? WE JUST FOUND SOME FORM ONLINE AND THEN ADDED INFO AS NEEDED.




Where do you post your ad that yields high traffic? Craigslist? YES



absolutely under no circumstances rent to anyone without doing a credit check on the applicant yourself. do not accept a printed credit check from the applicant, run it yourself. the nicest people can have a long history of not paying everyone with whom they have ever done business. decide if you are in the rental business or social services and rent your property accordingly. Some tenants have no problem with lying, expect that they are entitled to never pay rent and then filing housing discrimination claims against the landlord for invented discrimination. oh, and on this last point, the default assumption is that you the landlord are at fault, regardless of what proof you have that you didn't know about whatever supposed discrimination the tenant claims. after two tenants from hell that have so far cost me well over $20K, i now run credit checks religiously and do not consider anyone with a history of defaults. check on line to find out how to run a credit check. check references too, but don't let a reference override a bad credit report. you don't really know who is giving the reference. do not allow any tenant to fall behind on rent, begin eviction proceedings with a lawyer promptly. our experience is they begin to feel entitled to pay less than agreed upon rent or to not pay at all. we list our rentals on craigslist. get a lawyer who specializes in this area to review your rental agreements. been burned, i'm a harda$$ landlord now. there are plenty of great tenants out there who will pay rent on time, will not trash your rental, and have a decent credit report. tired of tenants from hell, not doing social work

Notifying other applicants after you've chosen a renter

July 2010

A question about rental protocol. After applications have been submitted and a renter has been chosen, how do you inform those who have not been chosen? Do you contact them by phone, letter or email, or do you tell them up front ''If you don't hear from me by Thursday keep looking.'' Looking to streamline the process.

Since you have no contractual obligation before the lease is signed, you can handle applicants you do not want to rent to an any way you like. It gets into legalities if you give a reason, so it is best to say you have chosen another application and leave it at that. I would like to suggest that if you are getting multiple applications, you may be able to get more rent for the space. anon

Page 174 of the book ''The Unofficial Guide to Managing Rental Properties'' says to keep the application for 3 years and to keep *detailed* notes on the application as to why you did not rent to them or why they decided not to rent your property. I always contact them by phone to keep the discussion positive and also clear. Another book I found useful for these basic landlord housekeeping issues is ''Managing Rental Properties for Maximum Profit''. Its an older book now but is one of the better books on being a landlord. anon

I call mine back and hope for voicemail. Calling is quicker than writing a note and doesn't create paper trails. anon

When showing your apartment state how the applicants will hear from you while they are there, or when they turn in their application. I have always contacted each applicant personally, whether through email or phone. They have taken the time to fill out the application and turn it in. I think it is only right for the landlord to take 60 seconds to personally reply back. As an applicant, having that question floating out there in space without a reply can be very hard. Think about when you waited to hear back from your first job application. Having a concrete answer, whether yes or no, helps everyone sleep better at night. Claire

Basically a simple matter. Keep applications for at least three years. Do NOT write applicants back with reasons why you made your decision - it is too easy to say something that could be taken wrongly. I simply tell all applicants when I will make my decision, and make no effort at all to contact those I did not select. I have only occasionally been called by people rechecking. In that case, keep it very simple, simply saying you selected another applicant. Again, do not offer any reasons or explanations. They really aren't necessary, and can only complicate matters. low

Renting while being a landlord

July 2008

hello, we are looking for advice/information about the following situation... we own a nice but cozy 1 bedroom in the hills near campus. when we bought a few years ago, we thought we would sell this place when we had a baby (which happened 7 months ago) to ''trade up,'' but alas, we have flat or possibly negative equity in the house due to the current market.

so we are considering renting it out, as we can likely get close to our mortgage payment. meanwhile, we are interested in then renting a bigger place for us, a little further out (and therefore cheaper) for pretty much the same monthly rent as what our tenants would pay us. we'll still likely lose $ overall, at least on property taxes (which i consider a loss anyway), but perhaps it will be more gradual than trying to sell our house now at such a bad time. and perhaps in the meanwhile, the market might recover, who knows.

does anyone have experience in renting a house to live while being a landlord? the tax implications? the positives/negatives? it seems like a temporary solution to our problem of no longer having enough space while seeing if the market somewhat recovers, but i'm not sure. advice or financial referrals would be appreciated. thank you.

Being a landlord no matter what the reason is a MAJOR commitment. You are providing someone with a home and you are responsible for its upkeep. In today's economy, it is tempting to rent out your home so you can rent a bigger one. Understandable. But that doesn't change the fact that you have to be responsible for your tenants and all the problems and headaches that come with them. Think hard before making this choice. It's a lot more than money you're dealing with here. Anon

Legal responsibilities for an Oakland landlord

Sept 2006

My very independent aunt, who is approaching 80 years old, is the owner of some rental units in Oakland. Although there are no present problems with her properties (that we are aware of), we want to be sure that the maintenance of the properties is up to the standard in terms of what landlords are supposed to do, i.e., strapping the water heater, assessing earthquake safety, doing routine inspections, etc. I'm hoping to get some advice for her about what the legal responsibilities are of a landlord along these lines, as well information and resources to guide her, in the form of inspectors and consultants who could look at the property, as well as books, etc. The impetus is both to be sure the tenants are safe and to protect the assets she has/needs as she grows older from any liability. Thanks in advance for any help!

Please take a look at the California Landlord's Law Book from local publisher Nolo Press ( It will be well worth the investment. Also, Oakland has rent control and eviction controls and it would be good if you know about these ordinances: check out the city website for information:

Good for you for wanting to be conscientious landlords!

Nolo has several excellent guides for landlords. You can get them on their website or just go to their store in Berkeley (where they're available at a discount). You can also find a lot of free articles on their website:

Contact Alameda Apartment Owners' Association, in Oakland. They should be listed in the book----I don't think they have a website. They can probably steer you in the right direction. Also, Nolo Press used to have some good books on landlording----you should check out their offerings. Good luck
Income Property Owner

Investing in rental housing

Sept 2006

I am in debt (manageable debt) with great limits on my ability to earn - mainly because of the profession I have chosen. I am beginning to work on switching gears to something that pays more, but in the meantime, I have equity in my home, experience in managing rental property and fixing it up for resale, and want to invest. My credit rating is good and I have been told that I will be able to qualify for loans. I would be looking for property that I would hold onto for a fairly short time period - 1 to 3 years. Is there anyone out there who has done this on a small scale and can offer advice? I don't want to post my email but if you prefer to have me contact you, I would appreciate that

I'm a mortgage broker who has 11 years of experience- here is my advice...

It is very hard to make money or break even on investment properties in this area unless you have a very large down payment (without having to take it out of the equity of your primary residence). What I would suggest if you want to expand your portfolio and invest in real estate is this:

1. invest in a REIT (contact a financial planner for info)

2. invest in rental property out of state where it has a better cash flow and is more affordable. consider investing in an area that you like to visit- so you may gain the tax benefits when you travel.

3. invest with companies that specialize in real estate and do the leg work for you- try SIFF investments (they specialize in Oregon investment properties and are based here in SF) or Open Door Properties- (they gather pools of investors for short term investing on real estate)

Last, you could invest in property in the Bay Area and be cash flow positive if you took a negative amortization loan. Your loan balance would go up instead of down so you'd be relying completely on the real estate market appreciating to make money in the long run. If you are looking for 1-3 years as your investment period- you are taking a big risk. Many experts believe the real estate market may flatten or decline during this period and are advising clients to invest for longer terms.

Our tenant is not paying rent and won't move out!

June 2005

We have a property in Oakland and we're relatively new to the rental game. We've gone to workshops, read up about being a landlord, we're part of the rental association, have books and cd's, etc. but it's still so hard especially because it is not profitable at all and we've been burned a couple times now and again we have a tenant who is not paying rent and is acting like a complete jerk. At this point we are borrowing money from family and friends so that we can pay for this jerk to live in our home and we're getting behind on our bills. How can we get him out quick? We've started the eviction process but we really can't afford an expensive process and he has made it clear that he's going to make stuff difficult even though he doesn't even have a contract with us. At this point, I am not above doing something illegal/unethical so that my own family doesn't end up in a shelter with no credit over him.
frustrated landlady

Have you thought about just selling the property? It's difficult to be a landlord if you don't have the capital to weather this kind of situation. I own other rental property in Oakland and might be interested in your building, even with the horrible renter, depending on the number of units, neighborhood, etc. landlady

Dear landlord,

I've been a landlord for a long time and have many wonderful experiences and one truly horrible one. My initial advice: Calm down, resist the urge to do something ''illegal/unethical,'' and strongly consider getting yourself a lawyer. A few observations:

(1) Landlords should never be in a situation where their own financial well-being is affected by a few months of vacancy. Being a landlord brings with it financial risk, including not only the loss of rental income but the very real possibility that you will be sued or have to provide a cash settlement of some kind to a tenant to get rid of him. (This is sometimes cheaper in the long run.) From your e-mail it sounds as if you may have counted a bit too much on the income from your rental. Maybe there's a way you can address that (refinance?). But it sounds to me like you need to consider seriously whether owning rental property makes sense for you financially.

(2) Nonpayment of rent is grounds for eviction. Period. But the law provides many protections for tenants at risk of eviction. You need to read your landlord books carefully and follow their advice to the letter regarding eviction. Be absolutely sure that your observe all deadlines and do all of the paperwork correctly (including getting a witness to your posting of various notices to him, etc.). Any mistakes you make will certainly lengthen the time the eviction takes and may also provide grounds for your tenant to sue you. I also recommend keeping a detailed written chronology of all of your communications with the tenant--phone calls, letters, encounters, etc. What, when, who.

(3) You don't specify what you mean by the tenant ''making things difficult,'' but his options are limited. He can refuse to move, in which case you can have his belongings removed at his expense (you will never collect on that, however--works better as a threat). In my case, what the tenant did was create an elaborate set of false accusations of harrassment and non-habitable premises, get an attorney and threaten to sue me unless I provided a $20,000 settlement (for an apt. that rented for $800!!!). So as bad as your situation is, remember it could get worse. In our case, the tentant eventually backed down and agreed to move out, then immediately sued us in small claims court (and lost, appealed, lost again). Despite our complete innocence (which was stated clearly by the judge, who was aghast at the insanity of the ''case'' against us), this cost us a fair amount of money (attorney's fees, court fees, process servers, inspectors to prove habitability, lost income, etc.) and a lot more anxiety and stress. What saved us was the help of a calm, reasonable, and expert lawyer who told us the facts (most landlord tenant law is designed to protect tenants) and helped us use the law to obtain a just outcome. Without his help, we would not have made good decisions or obtained the result we did. Our lawyer was R.C. Wong, who has an office in Berkeley. I recommend him highly. He is normally a tenants' lawyer, which was helpful to us because he understood the tenant perspective.

(4) Next time (if you do continue renting), be sure to check every reference (don't rely on letters alone and consider doing additional research like googling the tenant to verify employment, etc.--we later found out our tenant-from-hell had had disputes with previous landlords and that a ''clean'' recommendation was part of the settlement terms when he left his previous residence), get a good-sized deposit, and make absolutely clear that you will scrupulously observe legal deadlines with respect to payment of rent.

Good luck!! Been there

If you have no lease with this guy, simply call the police and tell them he has not paid rent in however many months, does not have a lease, is not welcome and is therefore a trespasser. Then ask them to remove him. Go change your locks and get a restraining order (much simpler than eviction). I'd do all this while you proceed with the eviction process. By not paying rent, he is in breach of even an implied contract (i.e., one not in writing) and so you no longer have any obligations to him. I really feel for you. Good luck Anon

I've just been through this! FYI-You don't need a lawyer but you do need to proceed with caution! Email me and we'll chat.

tia, fellow Measure EE landlord

First, when you choose a tenant in the future, make sure it's a good one. Check everything: their credit, references, make sure all their addresses on their license and current utility bill and current address all match as they should, and so on. Anything amiss is a red flag and is not someone worth renting to. As you are learning, sometimes it is better to have no tenant than a bad one.

Second, sometimes, rather than resorting to the eviction process, you can just pay someone to move out. Offer to pay them ''moving expenses'' if they get out by a certain date. Everyone has their price. I've had friends use this method to get rid of tenants.

Third, it's unclear whether your are renting a room or unit in your house, or if you have an apartment building or what. With Oakland and its Measure EE Just Cause Eviction law, getting tenants evicted can be difficult. I have a friend who highly recommends a company called ''The Evictors'' for evicting tenants. With all the rules and regs, he felt is was just easier to use a service like this. If you are renting a room or unit in your house, it may actually be easier to get rid of the person (single family homes are often exempt from various laws).

Buying a second home, thinking about renting out the old one

June 2004

We are considering renting out our house and I am interested in any advice for or against becoming a landlord. We own a house in Oakland (Crocker Highlands area), but have an opportunity to rent a house in Moraga -- we had been considering selling our house and buying in Moraga/Orinda for school reasons, but with this opporutnity to rent there, we thought it would be a good chance to test things out out there before we take the plunge and buy. This would mean renting out our Oakland house temporarily (maybe a year or two). My questions: How hard is it to be a landlord (e.g., finding and maintaining good tenants, taking care of their complaints, worrying about your house being kept in good shape by them, getting them to move out when it's time to sell, and anything else I haven't thought of)? Does anyone have any advice on how this will work out financially for us? What are the tax consequences of renting out what was previously your residence (in terms of deducting interest on the mortgage, depreciation, etc.)? Should we be looking to get rental payments that equal our mortgage payment? Would less still let us cut even financially? Any words of wisdom on this subject would be greatly appreciated. Thanks. sharon

My advice, based on my own experience and being in the rental field for over 20 years, is to get a property manager. A property manager will screen your tenants, handle any rent defaults, take care of maintenance problems and keep excellent records for you to hand over to the tax man at the end of the year. In addition, the laws for landlords are getting more and more complicated every year, and a good property manager makes it his or her business to stay abreast of all the stuff ya gotta do. In addition, since your house is in Oakland, I would take the time to read the Rent Adjustment Ordinance and Measure EE, which voters passed in Nov. '02: I also highly recommend the Nolo Press book on Landlord's Law, just to get a sense of the basics. Becky

Nolo Press has a great book on Landlord Law and best practices for being a landlord. They also have all the forms - rental applications, credit check authorizations, etc. We have a similar situation to yours. And while it is not without its challenges, it has been worth it for us. Here's what we aim for:
- Positive cash flow (include mortgage, taxes, insurance, gardener, water/ trash, maintenance in your calculations).
- You will need to purchase commercial insurance since the property won't be owner occupied. It is significantly more expensive than homeowners insurance.
- Good, stable tenants. We set the rent a notch higher than the standard market rate. We've had two tenants in 6 years, both from Craigs List.
- We try to break even every year since any money we make on the property is taxed. If we are ''ahead'' at the end of the year, we make an additional payment to our mortgage company so we show $0 losses/gains for the year.

The biggest thing you should consider though is capital gains taxes, which you will be subject to after 2 years of not living in the property. The good news is that you only have to pay the tax on any gains the property makes when you sell it. The bad news is that it can really eat into property appreciation. I'm sure there is much more to consider but this is a start. I look forward to reading the responses. Good luck with you decision! Anon, please

it's not as simple as you think, and much depends on your tenants. my parents have been landlords for years. Generally speaking, you'll have to do some significant cleanup work, if not repairs after a few years. You can only charge what the market will bear, which may be more or less than your mortgage, and the higher the rent, the less choice you'll have in tenants. Check w/ your tax person about those implications. If you end up moving w/in a certain time frame (3 yrs? I can't remember) you can transfer the basis of the home to any new home you buy. The rental income is income, and any improvements/repairs you make is deductible, so save receipts. And of course you can evict to sell the property, but some tenants are easier than others, and you should plan on either evicting them early to get the house ready (which means lost rent), or potentially earning less on the sale (tenants don't have any interest in making the house look good.) And read up on all the relevant laws. anon

I recommend you read the Nolo Press book on being a landlord as well as the book on a tenant's rights. These will provide you with a good idea on what to expect. As a former landlord, the part I was more concerned with was educating myself so that I did not discriminate against potential tenants as this is against the law. I also recommend you sign up with a service that will check the credit history of potential tenants. I used the Tenant Screening Center located in Santa Rosa. I paid for the garbage because I wanted to make sure my house was kept clean and not littered with trash. The tenants paid for all the other utilities. If you are concerned about having your yard or plants watered you might consider paying for water usage or at least paying for half of it. I initially went with a 6 month lease as this gave me sufficient time to get to know the tenants. Once happy with them, it turned into a month to month rental agreement which they wanted. As for how a rental will impact your finances, I recommend you read up on IRS publications about what you can/cannot deduct. There's just too much information to cover in this newsletter. Been there.

How to find a long-term tenant for our house

Jan 2004

Greetings, We are considering renting our 4 bedroom, 2 bath North Oakland home for a long-term period. As we are close to Cal, this would be perfect for a family here on sabbatical. We'd really love advice as to how to advertise this to the academic community and other responsible, long-term renters and/or leasers. Are there special websites for academics who are heading here on sabbatical? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance, Deborah

Cal Rentals, UC Berkeley's counseling and listings service for students, faculty and staff, operates a special program for sabbatical visitors to UCB. Academic visitors appreciate a furnished place, relatively near to campus. They typically stay in our area for an academic year or a semester, and rarely stay more than two years.

There is no charge to list a home (or apartment or room) at Cal Rentals. If you would like more information about offering your home as a rental, please call 642-3644. Or, you can send an email to: homeinfo[at] Nancy

I have rented my home and in-law unit a couple times now with very good results. I have listed with the UC Housing office where you can specify Faculty only or Students. They also helped me with competitive pricing. I listed on the Parents Network and Craig's List. Another possibility is the classifieds in your alma mater's magazine, i.e. I see ads for home rentals in Harvard Magazine for all over the world. My in-law unit renters came from Household Digest. My home renters, UC faculty moving to the area, came from Craig's List. Screen applicants over the phone and then arrange for a meeting and walk through. kl

Siblings inherited the family home - rent it out?

June 2003

My mother's modest estate has been probated and us sibs (6) are considering whether to simply sell the house and go our separate ways, or retain joint ownership of the property and turn it into a rental. The house is 45 years old, a modest but large ranch style, 4 bed, 1 1/2 bath, with original kitchen and baths, and has received so-so upkeep throughout the years. However, it is in a community that has become very upscale, with high home prices, few if any single family rentals even exist, has great schools, is on a picturesque .9 acres of woodsy Conecticut, complete with babbling brook, and is communter distance to NYC. One of my sibs lives nearby and could help hire / oversee a rental maintaince company.

Has anyone done anything similar to this before who could provide insight into how to get this kind of thing set up, do's and don'ts, how you get a group of sibs to agree on a course of action, legal steps, etc.?

My feeling is that we could probably be a little in the black right away, and then in twenty years the house might provide a nice supplementery retirement income for all of us. Thanks in advance.

Your goal of an investment that will spin off income for all the siblings is a good one. However, co-owning a rental property is a risky way to achieve it. Remember that, if you sell the house now, you can each invest your share of the proceeds in an income-producing investment that each of you will control independently. Your goal will have been met without co-owning a rental. (I can't resist adding here that most economists think houses are significantly overvalued right now, and that prospects for continued rapid appreciation are poor. In other words, this may be a great time to sell.)

My advice about turning a family home into a rental is an emphatic: don't! Both in my extended family and in my husband's, we've seen siblings turned from tight and loyal families into implacable enemies by co-ownership of indivisible assets (ironically, one was Great Granny's beautiful farm in Connecticut, like your land, replete with babbling brook.) Managing a rental involves plenty of headaches all by itself, but the constant decisionmaking over big expenditures, chores, etc. becomes a real hazard to family harmony once a large number of co-owners are involved. What are the odds that all six of you will agree about how much risk to take, how much money to spend maintaining or upgrading your investment, or when to sell? What are the odds that your tax situations are all identical? Rentals are not too profitable if you have to pay people to do all the work for you, but I can tell you from personal experience that sharing these tasks among you will be difficult. The tendency is for those who are doing the tasks to have a different assessment of their value and difficulty than the siblings who don't do them: everyone feels burdened. Also, you want to be able to make demands on the person who does each task, and to ask tough questions and make sure things are done wisely and well. However, it isn't easy to call a sibling to account, or to ask him or her to justify decisions and actions, even if you are paying him or her for the work. Things only get more difficult once your spouses, (or, god forbid, ex-spouses) get dragged in. These folks rightly have a say over a couple's assets, but aren't always bound by the same generous sentiments as the siblings themselves. And then, of course, your children serially inherit the mess. Protecting their stakes in the house pits the first-orphaned nieces and nephews against their aunts and uncles, instead of keeping their relationship one of mutual aid and support. After that, the vast diaspora of cousins has to make joint decisions. Hopeless.

Political Science tells us that requiring unanimity results in paralysis. (And paralysis in managing an asset means financial losses.) Our experience of family life tells us that forgoing unanimity, and overruling some siblings, brings ill will and grudges. Your responsibility to your siblings begs you to accept financial losses to keep harmony among you; your responsibility to your spouse and children obligates you to do what is best for them economically. Co-owning a rental creates an inevitable conflict between these two responsibilities. Out of love for both groups, better to avoid it.

Capital gains taxes, and the tendency of property values to fluctuate, mean that it is a complex transaction for individual siblings to divest themselves of their stakes at different times, and zero-sum games are inevitable. Divestiture involves facing decisions that pit one sibling's interest against the others' and where there are no clear cut rules to guide one.

Worst of all is seeing what happens to one's family nest egg when the siblings can't agree, as happened in my spouse's family. Lawyers ate roughly a third of the total assets, and considerably more than the portion that was in dispute.

Now two families are scarred, and we are left with sad reminders like sparsely attended weddings, and birth and graduation announcements that fall on deaf ears. Gone for good are those happy sharings of rented beach houses and woodsy cabins, where, in a wild army cousins, each of us always found a soulmate. The more you love your family, the worse the heartbreak.

If you decide, as many do, to attempt co-ownership, please at least read up first on the management of family owned businesses.

It has always amazed me that, as a family-owned concern, the Mafia manages to make money. That they are driven to slaughter each other is no surprise at all.

Anonymous out of tattered respect for my disgraced lineage

I've been renting our former home for almost 10 years. A few thoughts: 1) it could be quite a bit of work so the sibling who becomes the manager ought to be paid. 2) Definitely do credit checks and check references on applicants. 3) If you rent it, you will get a small tax break on your income taxes (divided amongst several siblings it will be small and might be rather complicated, in terms of paperwork). however, when you eventually sell the after it's been a rental you will owe extra taxes (because it was a business.) I don't know how those taxes will compare to whatever taxes you might pay if you just sell now... talk to an accountant. mary

Not all of this will be relevant to your situation, but here's a few things I've learned from turning my own house into a rental:

1) You have to detach yourself from an emotional connection to the house, and see it as an investment. If this is the house you grew up in, and you would be sad to see it repainted or the old cherry tree cut down or whatever--or if any of your siblings would--you should sell it. Because eventually you will have these decisions to make, and monetary concerns will butt up against emotional attachments, and may cause problems for you.

2) Property managers can take an enormous cut of your profit--typically a monthly fee from you, plus the first month's rent (or 1/2 that sum) every time a new renter moves in, and then virtually anything else you have them do (e.g., fix pipes), paid at their rates. You pay them for their office time, if you ask them to fax stuff, etc. etc. Maybe this is not typical out in Connecticut, but it seems to be here. Also--and this is important--because they profit most when there's a new tenant, they have no incentive to choose people who will stay long-term. I rented a house myself recently and twice saw property managers give rentals to the first people to walk in the door with the deposit in hand. They didn't even check references.

3) Property managers and tenants don't do maintenance like you would do maintenance. They don't worry about that drip in the eaves that's going to rot the foundation mudsill in 5 years--the one that could be fixed in 10 minutes, if only you were notified about it. They worry about crisis situations, and whether the carpet and paint are new. Also, with few exceptions, tenants don't garden or do landscaping. So if you expect to make a tidy sum 20 years from now when the house is paid off, you need to make sure it doesn't look like it's been rented for 20 years, or need 20 years' worth of work. Your sib who is close by should maybe get an extra cut of the profits for keeping an eye on the maintenance.

4) Get Nolo Press's guide to being a landlord--it's invaluable.

The curmudgeonly landlady

We rented to a family with an option to buy and now they won't move out

Feb 2002

A couple of years or so ago we ended up renting out a house which we'd been trying to sell in Vallejo to a family who had a credit situation that needed to be cleared. The agreement was that they would rent for a 6 to 12 month period while they cleared their credit record, then purchase the house. We, being trusting and wanting to be kind landlords, have let this arrangement drag on, and have been extremely patient and lenient about rent payments which have been late for reasons which may or may not be beyond the family's control. Thousands of dollars later, we are finally coming to our senses and would like to cut our losses by getting rid of these tenants and trying again to sell the house. We've considered and rejected the idea of trying to handle this ourselves. We've had some interest from a real estate broker who offered to evict the tenants then sell the house for us. Someone else has suggested going to Small Claims Court to try to recoup our losses. We're pretty! naive about what to do at this point, so any advice from others who have dealt with a similar situation would be really appreciated. What sort of professional(s) should we consider helping us out, how much should we expect to pay for someone to take care of this for us, etc. - Anonymous please

We've got burned - to the tune of $5,000 - for being ''nice.'' When we finally got fed up, evicting our tennant took 5 months because she knew how to work the system. My father-in-law, Fred Duman, is a real estate lawyer (510-537-3388 ). I suggest contacting him or another real estate lawyer asap. Helena

I highly recommend you purchase The Landlord's Law Book, published by Nolo Press. You can get it either from the Nolo bookstore at the corner of Parker and 9th Street in Berkeley, or probably from any good bookstore locally. Read up on the subject of evicting tenants before you decide to hire someone for this purpose. That way, if you do hire someone, you will be educated about what they are supposed to do and you can ask intelligent questions to determine if the person will do a good job for you. Or, you may decide you can do it yourself after you've read the book. Becky

Sellers renting back from the Buyers


We just bought a house and are wondering about others experience with the sellers renting back from the buyers. The sellers were renting back from us for 3 weeks after we had closed escrow. They were reluctant to give us a key and we had to wait over 2 weeks to get one. According to our agent, it is normal for the sellers to give the buyers a key after closing, even during the rent back period, afterall the buyer has just purchased the house. However, according to their agent, in all the 15 (?) years of their experience, they have never heard of the sellers giving the buyers a key during the rentback period after closing. What is the proper procedure? We never signed forms that state anything regarding when we would get a key. As the buyer/landlord now, we know we are bound by certain rules to give notice if we need to enter the property with a legitimate reason, and we have no problems with that. We would like to know what to expect with the key if we are ever in this situation again.

YOU now OWN the home and should have a key to YOUR home, even if they are renting back. We had a similar situation when we bought our home 10 years ago and there was never a question as to whether we would have a key. Their realtor is either lying to you or is incompetent. MK