In a victory for renters, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors passed the first reading of the renters’ rights ordinance by a 3-2 vote on Tuesday.
The ordinance must pass again, at the Feb. 12 board meeting in Santa Maria, to take effect.
Third District Supervisor Gail Marshall – who represents the largest number of renters in the county, approximately 4,100 – drafted the ordinance. It would require landlords in unincorporated areas of the county, including Isla Vista, to pay interest on security deposits, provide relocation assistance to tenants who have to move because of building code violations and register non-financial related convictions.
On May 22, 2001 the Santa Barbara Roundtable, an organization composed of residents and tenants’ rights groups, including the I.V. Tenants Union, submitted a “Tenant Fairness and Security Package” to the board to give tenants more rights. After months of negotiations between the supervisors and the Roundtable, a final proposal was brought to the board this week.
Fifth District Supervisor Tom Urbanske voted against the ordinance because he said he agreed with many of the landlords’ concerns about the impracticality and difficulty of paying interest on security deposits.
“I don’t see any reason to add roadblocks in peoples’ way. The landlord-tenant relationship is a personal relationship,” he said.
Das Williams, a consultant for tenants’ rights, said the landlords are too reluctant to give up some of their power for the good of all tenants.
“[Paying interest on security deposits] is not rocket science. I’m a little disappointed in the vehemence of opposition of the landlords in this matter,” he said. “High security deposits make it difficult for families … they can’t rent.”
Coalition of Labor Agriculture and Business President Andy Caldwell said giving back interest on security deposits is an impossible feat for landlords.
“Let’s say you have 30 different tenants who entered into the agreement at different times, how do you go about paying [the interest] back?” he said.
Sophomore UCSB student and El Congreso member Gloria Sanchez spoke at the hearing in favor of the package. She said the renters’ rights ordinance would give tenants more freedom.
“We see it. We live it. It’s going on and we all know there is a housing crisis,” she said. “If you are stuck with a messed up landlord, there is nothing you can do.”
However, 4th District Supervisor Joni Gray said the ordinance would cause higher rents in the unincorporated areas.
“When people asked me what we were discussing at the board today, I said we are causing rents to go up,” she said.
I.V. Tenants Union member Harley Augustino said the board’s decision to give more power to the tenants will please many of the county’s constituents.
“This has been a long process … I’ve learned landlords believe the tenants have all the power. It’s so amazing to me,” he said. “More importantly this will show that [the board] is actually listening this time,” he said.