How is the apartment hunting going for you? I suspect that it might be a little stressful and disappointing for some folks, but remember that this isn’t the worst part. Moving out and getting your security deposits back is where people usually run into problems. Landlords must return your security deposit within 21 days of moving out of the apartment, or else prove that they spent it on things you broke or ruined. If they don’t return your money, or if their claims of your irresponsible destruction cannot be substantiated, you can take them to court and demand a full refund, as well as a $600 fine (paid to the tenant) for acting in bad faith.

It used to be even better – with a punitive damage of three times your deposit – but thanks to the well-funded landlord lobby, the law was revised down to a $600 fine. But still, that is a good sum of money. On Monday, for the first time, the Santa Barbara Superior Court ruled in favor of a tenant and granted a $600 bad faith payment to an Isla Vista tenant.

Landlords count on the fact that most tenants are too busy working, and worrying about keeping what they’ve got, to fight back or organize. But, organizing is the only way anybody ever got anything from the powerful. The A.S. Isla Vista Tenants Union (IVTU) is a grassroots organization formed by Isla Vistan students and families in 1998 after mass evictions of low-income tenants at the Colonial, Balboa and Cortez apartments. Since then, we have been educating tenants on their rights, fighting unjust evictions and organizing for more tenants’ rights. No matter how rich or poor you are, when someone has arbitrary power over your life (like landlords with housing), you can be taken advantage of.

The IVTU is putting together a Tenants Outreach Drive this weekend throughout I.V. and we need your help. We hope to distribute 4,000 renters’ rights booklets and launch the landlord evaluation program we have been working on with A.S. Legal Services, I.V. Community Relations Committee and other housing experts. We will be asking tenants to fill out the evaluation forms, which evaluate living conditions, the landlords’ responsiveness to repair requests and rental rates. This will be a massive effort and we need your help! We are meeting at the Steven Biko house, 6612 Sue-o, from 12-5 p.m. on Saturday and 12-3 p.m. on Sunday. Food will be provided for all volunteers. If you are interested, please RSVP by calling 893-5989.

Some of the IVTU’s current and upcoming projects and events include:
* La Pachanga de Inquilionos – Tenants Jam! Join us for a night of celebration and inspiration for tenants in I.V. on Saturday, Feb. 3, at 5 p.m. The place is still to be announced; e-mail us at . At the Pachanga, there will be food, live music, IVTU information and various speakers.
* The El Encanto Project – We organized and voiced support for the building of an 18-unit affordable housing development in Goleta. At the board of supervisors’ meeting on the subject, 20 IVTU members were present, and the board voted unanimously to purchase the land for the project. The project will come up for approval in a couple of months.
* I.V./Goleta Cityhood – The Tenants Union has been taking an increasingly active role in the Goleta cityhood hearings. The Goleta Now! proposal excludes I.V. from the proposed city and I.V.’s exclusion/inclusion is the most contentious issue in the LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission) hearings. Although the IVTU has not taken a position yet, we are researching a variety of governance possibilities for I.V. and will remain an active participant in the discussions.
* Ongoing education and leadership development – The Tenants Union provides educational opportunities for members and reaches out to the community with information on tenants’ rights. We receive complaints, direct people to appropriate resources and educate people about their rights, so as to proactively prevent problems. At our last meeting, A.S. lawyer Marshall Fox made a presentation on tenant-landlord law, from the eviction process to security deposit issues.

The Tenants Union is a great place to get involved in the local community and build leadership skills. We meet every Friday at the I.V. Community Service Center at 6 p.m. (970 Embarcadero del Mar, behind Rosarito’s and D