Santa Barbara County’s endorsement of a local renters’ rights group may open doors to new renting laws.
The Santa Barbara Housing Roundtable, an organization of local residents seeking to improve tenants’ rights, recently received an endorsement from the Santa Barbara County Human Relations Commission (HRC), an anti-discrimination county advocacy group.
The HRC voted unanimously to endorse the Housing Roundtable’s Home Security Legislative package, a proposal of four new laws, which would require landlords to inform tenants 60 days in advance of any rental contract changes. The proposal also seeks to provide financial assistance for any tenant forced to relocate during housing renovations, return interest made on security deposits and provide a more accurate tracking of evictions.
In order for the proposals to become law, the roundtable will have to gain approval from the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and the Santa Barbara City Council, according to Harley Augustino, public relations representative for the Housing Roundtable. The first step in this process will be a hearing, scheduled for Feb. 6, between property owners, the Board of Supervisors and the Housing Roundtable.
Augustino said the endorsement from the HRC, which approved the package 13-0, can be attributed to the obvious benefits of the proposal.
“These proposals are really being made to deal with issues of basic fairness. … This is something that even strong conservatives can agree on,” he said. “That’s why I believe that we successfully achieved a unanimous vote from the Human Relations Commission. Everyone needs to address these tenant and landlord relationship issues that are always just ‘talked about.’ ”
Mary O’Gorman, head of the HRC, said although the proposal may cause controversy at future meetings, the new ordinances would appeal to the majority of residents and lawmakers.
“I want to stress that the concepts made by the roundtable are fair and reasonable. The HRC has already finished our part with our endorsement,” she said. “We just can’t predict what the supervisors on the board are going to say. The next step after that is a meeting with the [Santa Barbara] City Council. If 13 people from very diverse backgrounds unanimously approved all of the proposals on the HRC, then I don’t think there is going to be too many problems convincing other people. But there’s always some controversy somewhere.”
The Housing Roundtable, which consists of members from the Isla Vista Tenants Union, Carpinteria Tenants Union, environmental advocates, city and county employees and service providers, was founded in April 1999 when the IVTU sponsored a retreat. Ron Perry, legal adviser for the Housing Roundtable, said people from all over the county gathered at the retreat to talk about issues tenants face on a daily basis.
“We realized we need to do something and not just talk about it. We have an economic problem, which causes a ripple effect. … For example, senior citizens don’t get Social Security until the third of the month,” he said. “If a landlord makes rent due on the first, then a $45 late fee per day is the same as permanently raising the rent. Struggling students and low income families living paycheck to paycheck are also forced to have crowded homes to pay rent … crowding causes health problems … the list goes on.”
Augustino said the roundtable gained support around the county, including endorsements from the Latino’s for Better Government Organization, the Service Employees International Union Local 620 and both the I.V. and Carpinteria Tenants Unions.
“There is really only a small percentage of landlords that are going to be worried about having less control over tenants,” Augustino said. “Other than that, the chair of property owners seems supportive of all of our ideas. Tenants outnumber landlords anyway, right?”