WORST APPLICATION EVER.

“I Have a Jack Daniels Terrier.” I recently rented a big house here in Berkeley. I once got an application for this house from a woman that immediately aroused my suspicion, but as my sister Bonnie says, I have a suspicious nature. Why, I asked myself, would a single woman want to rent a 5 bedroom house by herself? Of course that’s legal, but it’s not normal. After reviewing her application form, I said: “I see you have a pet. You wrote down that your pet is a Jack Daniels Terrier. Don’t you mean a Jack Russell Terrier?” She seemed annoyed by my question. She said: “No. I meant what I said. I have a Jack Daniels Terrier.” I said: “Uh, you own a dog, right?” She said: “Yes, you know I do,” sounding increasingly annoyed. I said: “Well, I’ve never heard of a Jack Daniels Terrier before. Are you sure you don’t mean a Jack Russell Terrier?” Then she blew a gasket! She said angrily: “I’ve told you 3 times now that I own a Jack Daniels Terrier. You’re one of them, aren’t you?” I didn’t reply to that question. I didn’t know what she meant. Then she stood up and gathered up her stuff and said as she left: “I know you’re one of them.” She said that several times, but she never explained what she meant by that. When I went home, I looked up ‘Jack Daniels Terrier’ on Google, just to make sure that there really is no such breed, and as I suspected, there isn’t. I decided not to rent my house to that woman – or her Jack Daniels Terrier. I rented the house to a nice bunch of U.C. Berkeley chemistry grad students instead. Here is a photo of a Jack Russell Terrier. Notice the distinctive upturned tail, a characteristic of this breed. I wonder what a Jack Daniels Terrier might look like.

San Francisco Rental Ad From 1970.

Below is a section of the For Rent ads from the San Francisco Chronicle in 1970. Look at the prices. Although it may seem hard to believe, back in those days, San Francisco and Berkeley were considered cheap places to live, that is, compared to big cities back East like New York and Boston. One of the main reasons why the hippies came to San Francisco and Berkeley in the 1960s was because they could find cheap housing here. Counter-culture people in every generation move to places where they can find cheap housing. Then they move elsewhere when housing gets expensive. That is something that never changes. Tourists, mostly from foreign countries, still go to the Haight Ashbury district in San Francisco expecting to see hippies and ‘flower children’, but there aren’t any. A 1 bedroom apartment in the Haight Ashbury district now rents for $3,000 to $4,000 a month. Of course, a portion of the increase in rents in the Bay Area can be attributed to inflation, but only a portion. When I arrived in Berkeley in 1972, I rented an apartment downtown for $80 a month, and I knew people who were paying much less than that.

What Is A Luxury Apartment in Berkeley?

I went to campus on Cal Day, April 22. Several of the new apartment houses in Berkeley near campus had booths there. There was one thing that these booths all had in common. They all claimed that they were renting luxury apartments, and only luxury apartments. The word ‘luxury’ was on everything. It was on the sales literature, the promotional giveaways, and the clothes that the sales agents were wearing. See the photo below of a shopping bag that I picked up on Cal Day. I asked a man working at one of these booths: “Your literature says that all your apartments are luxury apartments. What does that mean? I toured your building last week. I walked through a couple of 2 bedroom apartments. (One apartment was $4,500 a month. The other, which had a better view, was $4,800. a month including a parking space). They weren’t very big, and they didn’t seem to have anything luxurious about them, you know, like fine woodwork or marble floors, drapes, etc. In fact, neither of them even had a separate living room. What makes them luxury apartments?” The man working at this booth had an answer for me. I could see that he had been asked this question before. He said: “By luxury, we mean that our apartments are luxury priced.” AHA! So now I know what the word ‘luxury’ means, at least in Berkeley! ‘Luxury’ just means very EXPENSIVE! It tells you nothing about the apartment. Now frankly, I don’t think that ‘expensive’ is a reasonable definition of the word ‘luxury.’ Do you?

Berkeley Bans Fur.

In April, the Berkeley city council passed a law banning the sale of fur clothing. The city council says this law is just symbolic because they claim: “there are no stores in Berkeley that sell fur clothing”. However, that isn’t true! There are lots of stores in Berkeley that sell fur clothing, especially shoe stores. I have been wearing sheepskin moccasin bedroom slippers for years. They sell them at a number of stores in Berkeley. Mine are wool lined inside, like most moccasins. It is now illegal to sell moccasins like these in Berkeley unless you scrape the wool off the sheepskin first, which nobody is going to do. Besides, what the difference? Whether the wool is attached to the sheepskin or not, the sheep it came from is just as dead either way.

Rabbit Foot Keyrings. This is one fur product that has always been a mystery to me. I do not understand the appeal of this product. I sometimes see rabbit foot key rings for sale in stores. Do people really believe that carrying a dead rabbit’s foot in your pocket will bring you good luck? Yes! I once saw a man playing blackjack in Las Vegas, holding a rabbit’s foot in his left hand. When he won a big bet, he kissed the rabbit’s foot! As I left, I wondered: ‘Why would anyone imagine that a rabbit’s foot will bring you good luck?’ Obviously, cutting the feet off a rabbit didn’t bring the rabbit good luck! Well – did it?

 
CALIFORNIA SEA OTTERS. Some good news

In the late 1800s, sea otters in many places around the world were hunted to extinction for their soft luxurious fur. At the time of the California Gold Rush, it is estimated that there were 20,000 California sea otters, but by 1900, they were all gone. There were no sightings of sea otters in California for decades. They were believed to be extinct. Then in 1938, a small colony of California sea otters was sighted in a remote cove near Big Sur. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife immediately (and wisely) imposed a complete ban on capturing, killing, or harassing sea otters – and enforcing it with patrols. Today, there are several thousand California sea otters along the central and northern coast of the state. Frankly, I am a sucker for sea otters. I can watch sea otters for hours without getting bored. I sometimes see them near Seal Rocks in San Francisco. You can hear sea otters at some distance when they are eating oysters. It is fascinating how they do this. A sea otter will pick up an oyster with one paw and a rock with the other paw and then come to the surface. The otter then rolls over onto his back, places the rock on his stomach and then hits the oyster on the rock until he breaks the shell. It is amazing to me that sea otters figured out how to use rocks as tools to eat oysters. Here is a You Tube video showing a sea otter near Santa Cruz eating clams this way: Sea Otter Eating Clams.

HEIDI AND THE ANTS.

In most American cities, when a tenant tells his landlord that he has ants in his kitchen, it is usually because he wants the landlord to kill them, but this is Berkeley where things are different. I was just reviewing a series of emails that I got several years ago from a tenant who had ants in her kitchen and wanted me to get rid of them – but without harming them. I think you might enjoy reading this exchange. Here are some of the emails I received from her about this subject. There were more emails about this from her, but I can’t find them all. I changed her name in the letters below. Her name wasn’t actually Heidi. My stepmother had a dog named Heidi, but I never had a tenant named Heidi.

Dear Mark:
The ants are back. I have tried everything, but nothing works. I have even tried yelling at them.
Heidi

Dear Heidi:
I have been meaning to talk to you about this for some time. I know that you have been yelling at the ants in your kitchen. I can hear you from my office. However, yelling “Get out! Get out!” at ants doesn’t work. I don’t know if ants have ears, but I am sure that they don’t understand English. I will come over and spray something in your kitchen to get rid of them.

Dear Mark:
Will this spray kill the ants?
Heidi

Heidi:
Yes. I use a product that is made from the oil of orange peels. It is not harmful to people, but it destroys the respiratory system of ants and other insects. They die quickly because they can’t breathe.
Mark

Dear Mark:
I don’t want you to do that. That sounds awful. How would you feel if you couldn’t breathe? Let me think about this for a while. I was hoping you had a spray that would just keep the ants away, like mosquito repellent keep mosquitoes away.
Heidi

Dear Heidi:
I don’t have ant repellent. I don’t even know if such a product exists. I use orange peel oil because it is non-toxic to people and safe to use in restaurants and home kitchens. However, this product does kill ants. I doesn’t just repel them.
Mark

Dear Mark:
I need time to think this over. Please don’t do anything until I say so.
Heidi

Dear Heidi:
OK. Think it over. I will spray or not spray your kitchen as you wish. There are many products on the market that will kill or repel ants, but I don’t know of any, aside from orange peel oil, that are safe to use in a kitchen or around food. I have investigated this matter.
Mark

Dear Mark:
I found 6 more dead ants in my kitchen this morning. I found 4 dead ants in my kitchen yesterday. Did you spray that stuff in my kitchen? I don’t think there is anything in my kitchen that would kill ants. I found most of the ants on the top of the sink near the soap. Do you think the ants might have eaten the soap and died? Is soap poisonous to ants? If it is, do you know of a brand of soap that won’t kill ants if they eat it.
Heidi

Heidi:
I did not spray your kitchen. You told me not to. Frankly, I think it is silly for you to worry about the health of the ants in your kitchen. You have probably killed hundreds of ants by just walking on the grass in your yard.
Mark

Dear Mark:
Wow! I have been thinking about what you said about walking on ants in the yard. You are probably right. It makes you wonder if it is OK to walk in the yard. I have been taking the ants in my kitchen outside and putting them in the yard, but I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do. It is depressing, but I know you are right. I am now taking the ants to the back porch and dropping them off into the yard. Some of them may get hurt in the fall, but that’s better than walking on other ants in order to save the kitchen ants. Don’t you think? What do you think I should do?
Heidi

Heidi:
Do whatever you think is best.
Mark

Dear Mark:
I asked my mother for her advice about the ants. She thinks that trying to save ants is stupid. She says that she kills ants all the time. My mother thinks that I have too much time on my hands. She says that instead of trying to save the ants in my kitchen that I should come over to the church today and help her make brownies for gift baskets for our very old members. What do you think?
Heidi

Dear Heidi:
I agree with your mother. If you change your mind and want me to spray your kitchen, let me know.
Mark

Dear Mark:
Would you like some brownies? My mother and I made a lot of them today at the church for gift baskets. We made too many of them. They are very good. If you want to spray my kitchen, go ahead. I have lost interest in the ants.
Heidi

In any other city in the U.S., a tenant like Heidi would be considered bizarre, perhaps even unbelievable, but nobody who has lived in Berkeley for a long time would be surprised by a story like this. Landlords in Berkeley have to deal with tenants like Heidi all the time. When inexperienced Berkeley landlords ask me for advice, I tell them that the key to successfully dealing with someone like Heidi is patience, lots and lots of patience. – Mark Tarses

How Much Money Do You Have To Earn In Order To Rent An Apartment In A New Building In Berkeley?

As I said last month, Parker Berkeley on Shattuck Avenue is now open and renting apartments. It is 4 blocks from my house. This place is huge. It covers a whole block and half of the next block. 2 bedroom apartments at Parker Berkeley rent for $4,500 a month. Parking and utilities are extra. The rent is even higher if you have a cat. (You know, I have been a landlord for a long time, and it seems to me that if a landlord is getting $4,500 a month for a 2 bedroom apartment, he can afford to let a tenant have a cat for free.)

So – how much do you have to earn in order to rent one of these apartments? By my calculations, you would need to make at least $200,000 a year. You see, a person making $200,000 a year is only going to take home $100,000 after withholding. He is going to spend 33% of his income on federal income tax, plus 10% for California state income tax, plus 6% for Social Security. That leaves this guy with $100,000 a year or $8,300 a month in take-home pay. Landlords don’t like to rent apartments to people who are going to be spending over half their take-home pay in rent. So – what kind of people are going to live in this building or any of the other pricey new apartment houses going up in Berkeley? How many people in Berkeley make $200,000 a year? A lot more apartment houses like Parker Berkeley are going up. Many are already under construction. I think this a bubble, and I think it will end badly. The thing that I especially dislike like about these new apartment houses in Berkeley and San Francisco is that they only contain housing for the rich, the poor, and the elderly. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is being built for normal working people.

Where Will The Middle Class Live?

Parker Berkeley is the newest apartment house in town. This place is huge! Parker Berkeley covers a whole block plus part of the block across the street. It is not on a spiffy section of Shattuck Avenue, and it is a long way from campus, but it is walking distance to the Ashby BART station. My guess is that the owners of this building are planning to rent to commuters who work in San Francisco. The rental office is now open and here are the rents:

Studio $2,900.
One bedroom $3,400
Two bedroom $4,500
Three bedroom $6,300
Parking is extra, plus the rent is higher if you have a cat or a dog.

If these rents seem high to you, remember that rents for similar apartments in downtown San Francisco are much higher than this. Like all new apartment houses in Berkeley and San Francisco, Parker Berkeley has inclusionary apartments for the poor, but all the other apartments are rented at market rate. So here is my question. If all the new apartment houses in town only have apartments in them for the rich and the poor, then where will the middle class live? I have been asking that question for 30 years. Consider a schoolteacher who makes $70,000 a year. This teacher doesn’t make enough money to rent a market rate apartment at Parker Berkeley but makes far too much money to qualify for an inclusionary apartment. So where will this schoolteacher live? Certainly not at Parker Berkeley or  any of the new apartment houses going up in Berkeley or San Francisco. America has long been a middle class society, but we are building no housing here for the middle class. None at all. Zero. Zip. What kind of society are we going to live in if we only build housing for the rich and the poor? I never, never hear local politicians talking about this issue, the complete lack of new housing for the working middle class. It never comes up. I wonder why.

Bringing Stuff To U.C. Berkeley Football Games.

Because of the increased number of terrorist attacks in the U.S., U.C. Berkeley has further restricted its bag policy for fans coming to football games at Memorial Stadium. Backpacks and gym bags have been banned for years, but until this year fans could bring opaque bags up to 14 inches wide to games. Under the new policy, which is now in effect, fans can only bring 1 gallon clear plastic zip-lok bags or clear plastic bags up to 12 inches by 12 inches by 6 inches. The new bag policy will also be enforced at games at Haas Pavilion. Medical necessity bags will be excepted. By requiring that fans bring things in clear plastic bags, the university expects that this will also speed up the time it takes fans to get through security lines. Just within the last few months, U.C. Berkeley students were killed in terrorist attacks in Nice, France on Bastille Day and in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Convenience Fees

Beware of Convenience Fees. A lot of colleges allow students to pay their bills with credit cards. Some students get excited when they see credit card logos on their college’s web site payment page – but beware! Many colleges tack on ‘convenience fees’ when you pay them with credit cards. For example, on the U.C. Berkeley payment page, it says that they will accept Master Card and Visa for the payment of room, board, and tuition; but they charge a 2.75% ‘convenience fee’ on all credit card payments. That’s a lot! Think about how much that will cost you in dollars and cents over the time you will be in college. Their ‘convenience fee’ is in addition to the interest that your credit card issuer will charge you. If you can pay your tuition some other way, you should probably do so.
 
What Is a ‘Convenience Fee’? U.C. Berkeley isn’t the only university that tacks on ‘convenience fees’ when students pay them with credit cards. This is now a common practice at colleges all over the U.S. But just what is a ‘convenience fee’? It has always seemed to me that the term ‘convenience fee’ is a misnomer. After all, a convenience fee isn’t really a fee you pay for your convenience. Most people would find it more convenient to not pay an added fee. What businesses call a convenience fee is really a credit card usage fee, even though few businesses are willing to admit that that is what it is. The term ‘convenience fee’ implies that the fee benefits the person paying the fee, but a convenience fee is always for the benefit of the business (or university) that receives the money. I think it would be more accurate to call a convenience fee an ‘inconvenience fee’.  Hmmmm. I wonder what my tenants would say if I said to them: “Well – I know your lease says that your rent is $1,800 a month, but it would be more convenient – for me – if you made out your monthly rent checks for $2,000.”

Do Landlords in Berkeley Discriminate Against Irish Students?

The short answer is No. There have been a lot of claims in social media and the press that landlords in Berkeley will no longer rent apartments to Irish students because of the balcony collapse at Library Gardens downtown that resulted in the deaths of 6 Irish college students. These stories are untrue. I have been a landlord in Berkeley for over 40 years, and nearly all my tenants are U.C. Berkeley students. I know a lot of other Berkeley landlords, and none of them blame the victims for this tragedy. It is true that there were far more people on that balcony when it collapsed than was prudent; however, engineering reports showed that the cause of the collapse was poor construction resulting in wood rot and that had the balcony been properly built, it could have supported the weight of those students. The sympathies of all the landlords I know are with the families of these students. Yes, it is hard for Irish students to rent apartments in Berkeley for the summer, but not because they are Irish. There is a severe rental housing shortage in Berkeley, and because of our local rent laws, most leases in Berkeley prohibit sub-leasing. The Irish counsel general in San Francisco has investigated claims of discrimination against Irish students in Berkeley and has concluded that these stories are baseless and has said so publicly.