The way the local REALTOR® association saw it, the proposed legislation giving tenants in Berkeley, California the rights of first offer and first refusal when a landlord seeks to sell a rental property would be devastating – not only to private property rights and to the local housing market, but as the likely catalyst of a chain reaction throughout the state and across the nation. They also understood that it would disproportionately harm people of color who have owned multi-unit properties in historically segregated areas of the city for generations. Taking no chances, the Bridge Association of REALTORS® used several REALTOR® Party resources to assess the risks of a Tenant Opportunity to Purchase ordinance and prevent its passage.
The proposed ordinance, explains Government Affairs Director Kiran Shenoy, sought to give tenants the right to purchase a rental property in Berkeley before the owner could sell it on the open market, demolish it, or even withdraw it from the rental market. The significant and unpredictable delays this would involve, as well as the inability to seek full market value for a rental property made this nothing but bad news for property owners. In neighborhoods historically inhabited by owners of color who had been redlined out of areas with single-family zoning, the legislation would have disturbing racial implications. “After the struggle of acquiring property the only place their families were allowed to, legacy owners of multi-family properties would lose the ability to transfer their own property to a family member, let alone anyone of their choice outside the family,” says Shenoy, noting that the city hadn’t consulted any homeowners in these neighborhoods for input on the new legislation.
In 2019, when the Office of the Mayor had first introduced the legislation, the REALTORS® were at the forefront of the advocacy effort that forestalled it, joining forces with numerous mom & pop property owner groups. When the controversial measure was brought forward again early in 2021, the Bridge Association turned to the REALTOR® Party for help with some quick polling in the community, and Shenoy submitted the draft ordinance to the REALTOR® Party for a Land Use Initiative review, which helped in developing messaging for an urgent opposition campaign. An Issues Mobilization Grant supported targeted mailers to three City Council members who might be swing votes on the issue. The Bridge Association of REALTORS® also helped with content and talking points for a website created by the Berkeley Property Owners Association, https://berkeleyrentregulations.com/the-topa-fight, from which the public could send their views directly to city lawmakers.
“The Mayor’s office only released the complete text of the proposed ordinance three days prior to the committee hearing, and because the devil’s in the details, there wasn’t nearly enough time for a thorough public review,” says Shenoy. Through the REALTOR® Party’s Advocacy Everywhere program, an urgent Call For Action went out to all Bridge Association members, who responded in force, urging legislators to delay the hearing until there’d been ample time for the public to weigh in on the divisive proposal, and requesting an equity study, which would have to be added to the municipal budget. The bill is now languishing in committee, an effective victory, although Shenoy will be keeping a close watch on its future viability.
Defeating the ordinance has been a great relief for the REALTORS® and their allies, he says. “We did a lot of heavy lifting, but we couldn’t have done it without a strong coalition of property owners, and certainly not without the REALTOR® Party. They really came through for us on so many fronts, and all the moving parts were managed seamlessly by the respective teams.” The association anticipates having to revisit the issue in Oakland before long, and Shenoy is glad to have the tools and resources of the REALTOR® Party at the ready. Meanwhile, in Berkeley, they will continue to advocate for more reasonable housing policy, and better use of city resources – toward funding down-payment assistance programs and homelessness services, for example.
To learn more about how the Bridge Association of REALTORS® is protecting the rights of property owners to sell or withdraw a property from the rental market at will, contact Kiran Shenoy, Government Affairs Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 510.848.2659.