“Fairness and Security” may not be synonymous with the leasing experience in Santa Barbara for everyone, but if a collection of local renters’ rights groups have their way next month, they may be closer.
The Santa Barbara Housing Roundtable, an organization composed of concerned residents and tenants’ rights groups, including the Isla Vista Tenants Union, has proposed four housing ordinances – the “Tenant Fairness and Security Package” – to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. The ordinances, which will be submitted to the board on May 22, would give renters in Santa Barbara County more rights than they currently have, including a longer notice of lease changes and interest on security deposits.
Santa Barbara Legal Aide Foundation employee Ron Perry said the roundtable functions as an informal organization where concerned citizens can exchange ideas about how to improve housing in Santa Barbara.
“For me, this is an outlet where I can go and have something to contribute,” he said. “I think that’s what everyone does. We keep it informal so everyone who wants to can participate.”
The proposed ordinances include a 60-day notice of any material change in the lease, interest on security deposits and enforcement of their return, tenant relocation assistance and registration of evictions, Perry said.
“If a tenant lives on a property for more than one year, then the landlord pays 3 percent interest on that deposit when you move. The tenant relocation assistance happens when code-enforcement people come from the county, cite a landlord and people cannot live there,” Perry said.
“The landlord has three choices. Their first obligation is to put them in another unit, the second is to put them up somewhere temporarily until the repairs are made, and the third is to pay to relocate them,” Perry said. “The amount is three times whatever the rent is. The registration of evictions is also called the data collection ordinance. This measure allows us to stay informed about what is happening to tenants.”
The ordinances, originally scheduled to go before the Board of Supervisors on April 17, were pushed back to May 22 due to continuing negotiations between the roundtable and the Association of Housing Providers, Perry said. Constance Brown, a property owner and member of the Association of Housing Providers, said she has mixed feelings about the proposed ordinances.
“The security-deposit process is quite complicated, and I don’t think that a lot of tenants really understand it. I have mixed feelings about relocation assistance. We’ve lived in I.V. since ’64, and we saw it deteriorate into a slum about 10 years ago,” Brown said. “I worry about a slummy building not being bought because the new management would have to pay for the relocation of the tenants in the building.
“However, I think they should be given more time to find a place. I feel this ordinance might keep a lot of the slummy buildings with no chance of improvement,” Brown said. “I do not believe in the registration of evictions. We’ve had a few really scary bad apples. It’s a scary process anyway and then to have to register it too – makes it worse.”
Perry said the roundtable chose to propose the four ordinances because they are less controversial than previous ideas.
“We’ve been meeting and negotiating with them. We’ve tried to be forthcoming with these proposals and get feedback, and they’ve changed over time,” Perry said. “We purposely decided on the four we settled on to take to the board because they are the law in other places. We thought they’d be the most palatable to landlords.”
Brown said the eviction ordinance was proposed as a result of a few mismanaged properties and should not affect all property managers.
“I think all of this started with the evictions of some Latino families from the Cortez and Balboa apartments,” she said. “I think they were dealt with very unjustly and harshly by that management, but I think, overall, most evictions aren’t that way.”
Gail Marshall, Santa Barbara County 3rd District supervisor, said she introduced the ordinances to the Board of Supervisors because they are necessary due to Santa Barbara’s housing shortage.
“These are four very simple suggestions that will improve the quality of housing,” she said. “The renters are in a more precarious position than ever before because of the lack of housing in Santa Barbara. These ordinances would provide more security for them.”
Residents concerned with these ordinances are encouraged to attend the Board of Supervisors meeting on May 22 at the County Administration Building located at 105 East Anapamu Street, fourth floor, in the Board Hearing Room.