Learn more about the Berkeley Rent Board’s free mediation services.
What is mediation?
Mediation is a process in which a mediator (a neutral third party) tries to help two parties create their own solution to a dispute. The mediator does not impose a solution or make decisions for the parties.
Who can use the Rent Board's mediation services?
Landlords and tenants in rental units that are:
- Fully covered by Berkeley’s Rent Ordinance. These are units where the rent control, good cause for eviction, and security deposit interest sections of the Ordinance apply.
- Partially covered by Berkeley’s Rent Ordinance and registered under Measure MM. These are units that are covered by the good cause for eviction and security deposit interest sections of the Ordinance, but the Rent Board does not control the rent. Most (but not all) single-family homes, condominiums, and new construction units must register under Measure MM.
Regardless of whether the rental unit is covered by Berkeley's Rent Ordinance, mediation services are also available when there are disputes about the temporary relocation of a tenant while repairs are completed to bring the rental unit into code compliance.
How do I start the process?
Call or visit our offices to speak to a housing counselor. They can assess whether your case qualifies for Rent Board mediation. If your case is eligible for our services, you must submit a Request for Mediation form to the Rent Board. The form asks for the parties' general information and a brief description of the dispute. A mediation session can be scheduled within two to four weeks from the date the parties agree to mediate.
How is mediation different from the petition process?
The Rent Board petition process to adjust the rent ceiling is only for landlords and tenants in fully covered units. Landlords and tenants in units registered under Measure MM cannot use the Rent Board’s petition process because the only remedy a Rent Board hearings examiner can impose is a rent adjustment, but the Rent Board does not control the rent of Measure MM units.
The petition process is more formal and takes longer than mediation. After a petition is filed, the other side has 20 days to object and, in most cases, a hearing is then scheduled. At the hearing, the hearing examiner focuses on gathering the facts through testimony and documents. The hearing examiner issues a decision, which is limited to determining whether a rent ceiling reduction or other relief is warranted under the Rent Ordinance.
Mediation is voluntary, so both parties must agree to mediate. The mediator tries to help the parties communicate effectively and focuses on the desired outcomes of each party. The mediation can cover other tenancy issues in addition to rights under the Rent Ordinance; for example, the landlord's right of entry. If an agreement is reached, the mediator will write it up as soon as possible.
What are the advantages of mediation?
Mediation is faster than the petition process and can cover a larger range of disputes. An agreement results only when both parties agree, so mediation tends to be a more satisfying experience. The spirit of cooperation required for mediation usually means more positive dealings between the parties in the future.
Who will mediate?
A trained Rent Board staff member who is well versed in the Rent Ordinance and the regulations will conduct the mediation. The mediator will not give legal advice. They can give parties information about their rights and responsibilities under the Rent Ordinance or state law, but cannot advise parties on the best course of action.
How should I prepare for mediation?
You should think about what you want to discuss and what's important to you:
- What are the most important points for me to have in an agreement?
- Why are they important to me?
- What is the best result I could hope for?
- What is the worst result that could happen?
- What would be a sensible, realistic, and fair solution?
What will happen in the mediation?
The parties will be asked to read and sign an Agreement to Mediate. The mediator will give each party a chance to describe the dispute as they see it, and say how they would like to see it resolved. The mediator will seek to understand what is important to each party and encourage a settlement that is acceptable to both. Where the parties have an ongoing relationship (for instance, the tenant still lives in the landlord's property), the mediator will try to help the parties communicate better to avoid future disputes.
What if we come to an agreement, but the other party doesn't follow it?
Landlords and tenants tend to follow mediated agreements because the parties have worked out their own solution. If a party breaks an agreement concerning a fully covered unit, the parties can seek Rent Board remedies through the petition process, if appropriate, or try to enforce that agreement in court. Landlords and tenants in Measure MM units can only enforce the agreement in court.
What happens if we don't agree on anything, or agree just on some things?
The parties may pursue other avenues for issues that are not resolved through the mediation, such as the Rent Board petition process (for fully covered units only) or court. Statements or offers made in mediation will not be admissible in a Rent Board or court proceeding. If a Rent Board hearing examiner conducts a mediation that does not result in an agreement, and one of the parties later files a petition about matters raised in that mediation, that hearing examiner will not be assigned to hear the case, unless the parties agree.