With each passing year, they come earlier. As every year rolls by, so too does the knocking. You don’t want to get up and answer the door. So you shout “come in!” to the faceless stranger outside your house. “It’s open,” you say. But the door remains closed, and the knocking persists. Finally you get up and open the door, let the person or group into your place, and succumb to the ritual of Spring Quarter: house hunting in I.V. And while the house hunting process can be tiresome for the hunters and the hunted, in the scheme of all things I.V. living, it’s actually a relatively straightforward and unproblematic processes, when compared with the hell you can endure once you sign an actual lease, as well as the anxiety that comes with moving out.
Sitting down to talk all things landlord-related with the Isla Vista Tenants Union Chair Lindsey Quock, and the A.S. Isla Vista Community Advisor Hilary Kleger, I learned that the bulk of the problems they deal with are security-deposit related.
Yet, when it comes to landlords attempting to swindle money out of their tenants, the charges they throw your way can be as abrasive as they are bizarre. One student I talked with, fourth-year art history major Mike Wertheim, came home one day to find an itemized invoice in his mailbox from Wolfe & Associates, charging him $100 for small, petty items left on his front porch. For those who rent from Wolfe & Associates – myself included – these bogus charges should not come as a surprise. When I moved out of my first property with Wolfe, my roommates and I were charged over $150 to “replace a broken piece” in the refrigerator that was really just a cheap plastic divider used to separate the salad dressings from the eggs.
Maybe the part that was “broken,” – neither I, nor my roommates remember any piece being damaged when we left the apartment – could only be replaced for $150 because it came from a energy-draining fridge that was built in the early ’90s and the part was no longer made. A more realistic theory, however, is that Wolfe and Associates realize they can charge some arbitrary price for an even more arbitrary part and get away with it because the students renting from them have more important things to do over their summers away from Isla Vista than to fight their landlord over a piece of plastic. And according to Quock, this same logic can be extended to security deposits. “There are definitely landlords who will not give back the security deposit because they know that nine times out of 10 the students are not going to fight for it, whether it’s because it is their parents money and they don’t have the understanding of the loss of $1,200, or sometimes they just moved away and don’t have the tools [to fight back],” Quock explained. “Maybe we can pay it,” she added, “But should we? IVTU is a place for students to organize collectively and to say ‘No, we won’t stand for this.'”
What options do you have if you want to fight back? Your best course of action is to take photos before and after you move out and to have inventories of receipts that are given to you with your security deposit return check. From there, you can write a letter of complaint, and if that route fails, you can ultimately take your landlord to small claims court. Though the truth of the matter is, neither of these options seem viable. Yes, you can write a letter to Wolfe & Associates asking for more money back, and who knows, you could milk a few hundred dollars more out of them if you’re tenacious enough. Or, you can be bold and go to small claims, where you’ll have to pay court fees and get up early in the morning only to realize that Ron Wolfe is in fact a lawyer himself, and that he has a whole team of lawyers at his side who are going to make your case a living hell. Ultimately, even if you get some money back, it’s hard to really feel victorious.
But let’s take a step back for a moment. Before you can fully understand the problems tenants face and the power landlords here have, you have to think back to high school economics and the concept of supply and demand. I.V. is tiny and filled with thousands of students, many of whom are well-off and able to pay inflated prices for terribly maintained apartments and homes. This plays right into the hands of the landlords, who know they can set rent prices at a premium and have students fall in line to sign their leases. The problem is, for those who aren’t so well off, things turn sour pretty quickly, as low-income students and families are forced out of Isla Vista in favor of more financially secure tenants. The landlords don’t care that tenants are being kicked out (see: Conquest Housing) because they know there will always be an ample pool of wealthier tenants. Why? Because the university won’t stop letting more and more students enter the system.
As UCSB faces enormous budget cuts, small classrooms are crammed with students, fewer classes are offered, fewer professors are hired and students are crammed three to a room in the dorms. All the while, the Long Range Development Plan calls for the addition of over 5,000 more students to the university over the next 20 years. If the university is facilitating the supply of tenants – the same tenants’ landlords take advantage of – then shouldn’t they be responsible in some manner for allowing this circus to continue?
Quock thinks so. “The university has the responsibility to mitigate the effects of their increased enrollment. They need to build housing faster and more of it, and it has space to do that [specifically the land north of the San Clemente Graduate Housing and along the coast by Devereux], and these projects need to happen.” Lt. Olmstead of the I.V. Foot Patrol echoed Quock’s concerns. “I.V. is just about maxed out. We’ve got close to 18,000 people living in a half square-mile. “You’ve got to think about it from a security level – what happens when you add 5,000 more students?” Considering the university’s continued concern over UCSB’s “party school” reputation, it seems ironic that they want to bring in more potential partiers. But lets be realistic: 5,000 more students brings in a lot more money to the school. Perhaps even enough to one day build another $10 million archway. So why not build more affordable, university-owned housing?
In the mean time, real solutions are slim. While it might not be an attractive option, you could venture out of Isla Vista and live in Goleta or Santa Barbara to find nicer landlords and cheaper rent. However, if you really want to stay, you should at least do some research and discover that not all landlords in I.V. are that bad after all. Nina Garovillo, a second-year psychology major, loves her landlords, Anne Sanders and Gerry Winant, whom she describes as parent-like in their treatment of her and her roommates. “Over the holidays they came by and gave us all See’s Candies. It was too sweet. What other landlord would ever do that? They definitely care for us, and that’s nice to know,” says Garovillo. Her case may be the exception, not the rule, but it’s comforting to know there are a few good fish out there in the cesspool that is I.V.
With summer just around the corner, most students will be ending their leases and moving out, paving the way for the joys of security-deposit collecting. Patch up those holes in the wall with toothpaste, sharpie in the burn marks in your carpet, take pictures and hope for the best, because unless you’re an abnormally clean person, you’re sure to be in for a surprise when that check comes back your way. And if you’re planning on spending hundreds of dollars on carpet cleaning and a new paint job, don’t. Take that money and enjoy yourselves, because if your landlord is anything like most of them, you’ll be charged for all that regardless of your efforts. Why waste your time fixing a run-down apartment filled with cancer-causing chemicals when you could be out enjoying spring? Besides, who even remembers paying their security deposit? That was ages ago.