Wofsky files class-action lawsuit challenging Berkeley’s apartment registration fees 

Berkeley landlord says Measure MM fees violate the state’s constitution

Lawsuit Filed Against Berkley’s Apartment Registration Fees
1146-1160 Hearst Avenue (Google Maps, Getty)

Alan Wofsy & Associates has challenged Berkeley’s apartment registration fees.

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

Wofsy and his firm allege the fees implemented as part of Measure MM, voted into law in 2020, violate the state’s constitution. 

It seeks an injunction on the collection of Measure MM registration fees, as well as unspecified damages, litigation costs and attorneys fees, plus a refund of all fees paid by landlords under Measure MM since its enactment

Berkeley had previously required landlords of rent-controlled apartments to pay the annual, per-unit fees.

But the voter-approved measure amended the city’s rent-control ordinance 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.

Landlords for the added housing have shelled out $150 per unit a year for fiscal years 2021-2022 and 2022-2023, according to the lawsuit. Fees for non-exempt landlords have since risen to $178 per apartment.

Alan Wofsy & Associates argues those rates as unreasonable and more than needed to cover the cost of Measure MM, which also bars evictions of Berkeley renters for nonpayment during state- or local-level states of emergency.

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

The complaint alleges the fees violate a clause in California’s constitution. 

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

Under Measure MM, owners of exempt apartments — including units owned by nonprofits and units leased to Section 8 tenants — don’t  pay registration fees, and owners of affordable units that don’t qualify for exemption pay $37 per apartment per year.

In 1998, Wofsy bought three mid-century cottages at Hearst Commons at 1146-1160 Hearst Avenue, whose studios rented in 2021 for between $1,375 and $1,600, according to a rental listing.

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

— Dana Bartholomew