Lawsuit filed against Berkeley apartment registration fees

Alan Wofsy & Associates challenges Berkeley condo registration fees.

A San Francisco-based arts publisher and owner of a 26-unit apartment complex in northwest Berkeley has filed a class-action lawsuit challenging the city’s Measure MM, which forces apartment owners to pay annual registration fees, the San Francisco Business Times reported.

Wofsy and his company claim the fees implemented as part of Measure MM, which was voted into law in 2020, violate the state constitution.

It is seeking an injunction to collect Measure MM registration fees, plus unspecified damages, litigation costs and attorney’s fees, as well as the recovery of all fees paid by landlords under Measure MM since its issuance.

Berkeley had previously required rent-controlled apartment owners to pay annual per-unit fees.

But the voter-approved measure amended the city’s rent control law to add between 4,000 and 5,000 units once exempt from that requirement, including single-family homes, condominiums and apartments built after June 30, 1980.

Owners of the added housing paid $150 per unit per year for fiscal years 2021-2022 and 2022-2023, according to the lawsuit. The fee for non-exempt landlords has since risen to $178 per apartment.

Alan Wofsy & Associates argues that these prices are unreasonable and too much to cover the cost of Measure MM, which also prevents Berkeley tenants from being evicted for non-payment during state or local emergencies.

Measure MM also limited the rent control exemption to accessory dwelling units, unless the ADU is the only one on the property of an owner-occupied single-family home.

The complaint alleges that the fees violate a provision of the California Constitution.

Wofsy’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of “hundreds, if not thousands” of property owners who were required to pay MM registration fees.

Under Measure MM, owners of exempt apartments — including units owned by nonprofits and units rented to Section 8 tenants — do not pay a filing fee, and owners of affordable units that do not qualify for the exemption pay $37 per apartment per year.

In 1998, Wofsy purchased three mid-century cottages on Hearst Commons at 1146-1160 Hearst Avenue, which she rents out as studios in 2021 for between $1,375 and $1,600, according to the rental listing.

The owner of a San Francisco fine arts publishing company owns property in Oakland, and in 1989 he sued the city of Berkeley over a proposed housing project, and in 2000 he sued the city over a rent control law.

– Dana Bartholomew

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