*The following article is the second in a series examining topics of interest and concern about housing for tenants, landlords and the Isla Vista community.
The reality of living in Isla Vista is that housing is often imperfect and hard to improve quickly.
Ultimately, no one is the sole culprit. If there was anyone to blame it’d probably be Adam Smith and capitalism.
[media-credit id=20177 align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit]Finding and maintaining a suitable living situation is not a topic particular to I.V. — especially as a university student, living arrangements along most of the California coast can be competitive and costly.
However, Isla Vista’s location, culture and large population may make it possible for conflicts between landlords and tenants to arise easily. The town is unruly, expensive and poorly maintained in many respects. In fact, at 62.5 people per acre, I.V. also has one of the highest concentrations of residents in California.
Students Want What They Want
“It’s the student’s desire to live in Isla Vista,” Associated Students attorney Robin Unander said. “I don’t care if it is UCSB, SBCC or student-age person; there is a lifestyle here. A certain demographic wants to be near, wants to be a part of it. That’s what drives it.”
Currently, Isla Vista is populated 96 percent by renters, 45 to 50 percent of whom are students due to I.V.’s proximity to UCSB and SBCC. According to estimates from the UCSB Campus Housing Office and Santa Barbara City College Housing Services, close to 10,000 UCSB students and over 600 SBCC students indicated in Fall 2010 that they lived in I.V., although the total number of students in the area may be as high as 13,000.
James Gelb, owner of Del Playa Rentals — the largest rental housing provider on Del Playa — said Isla Vista exists primarily as a renter’s market because so many students have flocked to the area for decades.
According to Unander, there are only a few options available to student tenants who find fault with housing options in Isla Vista: they can move out of I.V. or live in university-owned residences, either on- or off-campus.
“But then you can’t drink, can’t party,” Unander said. “A lot of students in I.V. want to be at least a little bit involved in that scene.”
Those who stay in I.V., then, Unander said, will often have to struggle with tenuous living arrangements and hefty rent.
“We don’t have a constitutional right to live wherever we want to live,” Unander said. “There are affordable places to live — you can go inland, Fresno, Bakersfield, etc.”
Nevertheless, according to CHO Director Maya Salmon, there is no dearth of living space in I.V. High demand areas and not-so-high-demand areas, however see varied interest from renters.
SBCC Housing advisor Amy Collins said I.V. can occasionally be less costly than living elswehere if students are willing to endure close quarters.
“Sometimes the rent in I.V. can be cheaper than downtown cause you can have a bunch of people living together, although the quality of the I.V. house may be worse than the downtown property,” Collins said.
Do Landlords Push the Envelope?
Not everything is black and white when it comes to legal conflicts between landlords and tenants in Isla Vista.
In fact, in the majority of cases — sometimes due to grey areas of the law, other times due to student irresponsibility, Unander said — landlords are operating within their legal rights. However, some, she said, do truly have “no regard for tenant’s rights,” and take advantage of matters such as security deposit refunds, charges for repairs and student apathy.
Gelb, who claims he spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on maintenance and upkeep for his rental properties, said some landlords in Isla Vista do the bare minimum to provide for their residents.
“You’d be surprised how cheap people are,” Gelb said. “I’m not mentioning names, I would just simply state that there are some good ones and also some simply awful ones who aren’t trying to throw a dime into their place. Just like doctors, there are great ones and there are some that should be disbarred from their profession. “
Some run-down I.V. properties for example, Gelb said, have aluminum window frames close to four decades old.
“When owners don’t replace those windows, it becomes a real concern for female tenants worried about intruders,” Gelb said.
But that’s hardly news — complaints about the ‘sketchiness’ of Isla Vista landlords are made regularly by students, often centering on disputes over damages, security deposits, maintenance requests and rent. However, according to Unander only rarely do students turn their frustrations into legal action.
Unander, who has been assisting students with housing issues since she joined A.S. staff in 2003, said she has only seen about 25 students actually pursue their landlords in small claims court in her seven-plus years here.
3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr, whose office oversees Isla Vista, said many students express their discontent about Isla Vista housing to her.
“Of course you have some negatives because so many people are living in small areas,” Farr said, “but one of the real frustrations is that I hear that a lot of Isla Vista housing situations are substandard.”
Garrett Goto, a fourth-year hydrology major, said he has felt little effort from landlords to ensure a comfortable living situation.
“I feel that landlords do the bare minimum to keep their properties in living condition,” Goto said in an e-mail. “[They] know that customers will continue to rent in I.V. regardless of how attentive or detailed they are.”
Still, students are far from the best tenants. According to Unander, the fact that most students only live in I.V. for three to five years reduces their motivation to treat their residences as anything other than temporary, and hence, more disposable. As such, reckless behavior in I.V. often leads to hefty damages occurred against tenants.
“There’s no ‘pride of ownership’ out here,” Unander said. “Students don’t really think about ‘wow I really want this place to look nice.’”
According to Gelb, renting in Isla Vista requires responsibility.
“[When you lease], you’re entering into a contractual agreement with tenants,” Gelb said. “It’s called a relationship — it’s like getting married for one year.”
Daniel Sauerbrun, a fourth-year computer science major at UCSB, is currently taking former I.V. rental management company Conquest to small claims court over the matter of $1300 in security deposits charges he alleges were billed to him in error. According to him, the best way to ensure safeguards against housing disputes is to only contact landlords via email, and take advantage of tenant’s services such as move-in videotaping.
“Everyone gets screwed because some kids don’t take their living situations seriously,” Sauerbrun said. “You gotta stay vigilant and have everything on record.”
Unander said more students should follow Sauerbrun’s example, and stand up for their rights as tenants.
“That is part of my frustration in helping students doing things — they all get fired up but then there is just apathy,” Unander said. “[The irony is] that about 90 percent of those students who I have dealt with were successful in court or negotiated with their landlord before court.”