*The following article is the first in a series examining topics of interest and concern about housing for tenants, landlords and the Isla Vista community.

As you likely know already, or will soon discover, finding a place to live in Isla Vista has its ups and downs.

Primarily a renter’s market, the town of Isla Vista — actually an unincorporated community that falls under the legal jurisdiction of Santa Barbara county — is 96 percent populated by renters. Between 2005 and 2009, the American Community Survey conducted a five-year estimate of population, demographic and housing unit statistics for Isla Vista based on U.S. Census Bureau data. According to those results, an estimated 22,751 people lived in I.V. during those five years. And, while that filled just over 6,000 of the approximately 6,500 available housing units at the time, these numbers show that there is not a housing shortage in Isla Vista. However, pricing and other factors such as preferred location and the dynamic of your living situation can contrast with availabilities, so it’s wise to begin making plans for next year.

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I.V. offers an array of different housing tracks for students, from private apartments, duplexes, villas and condos, to cooperatives and university-owned properites. From left to right: a typically crowded Isla Vista apartment, and an inside view of the Biko House co-op.

Due to the sheer volume of information and debate surrounding housing in Isla Vista, today’s installment will function only to provide a broad overview of the options available for students who are house hunting, planning future move-ins, seeking answers about their current living arrangements and making move-out plans.

Check back next week for the second installment, which will elaborate on the landlord-tenant relationship, the legal matters associated with signing and upholding you part of a lease, as well as the availability of affordable housing for low-income families in the area.

Additionally, UCSB students seeking further information about living and renting in the area can drop by the CHO’s Rental Faire House Party today from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Corwin Pavillion in the UCEN to meet a panel of owners, landlords and property managers currently offering local accommodations.

*The following article is the first in a series examining topics of interest and concern about housing for tenants, landlords and the Isla Vista community.

As you likely know already, or will soon discover, finding a place to live in Isla Vista has its ups and downs.

You’ll Have to Pay Extra for the View

I.V. is a beautiful, individual, unimaginable place to live, work and attend school. At times, its thriving culture, spectacular weather and location will both astound and disgust. In a place with such personality and variety, landing in the suitable niche often centers on ensuring you have suitable accommodations.

The grid-style streets of I.V. are mainly packed with apartment buildings and other housing options that cater to student tenants, seeing as over half the people staying in I.V. are UCSB students, according to the university’s Campus Housing Office.

For the most part, these student residents are transient — after typically spending their first year in a campus residence hall, over 80 percent of student tenants tend to move between properties every year, and eventually leave I.V. after four or five years on average.

“That’s our culture,” David Wilcox, the Executive Director of Tropicana Gardens said “Students stay where they’re at for nine months or a year and then move on to another household, another set of friends.”

All the same, whether they associate with the majority population of students in the area, work in the area, raise their families here, serve as short-term transfer students, or identify as university faculty and staff, a host of issues face prospective tenants.

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The houses on oceanside Del Playa Drive tend to be the most expensive, as tenants pay both for the beachfront location and the proximity to campus. Pictured above, the 6500 block of Del Playa Drive.

Unfortunately, there is no definitive best option for student tenants in Isla Vista. Where you live all depends on what you are looking for in terms of pricing, location, number of housemates and how early you start applying.

“The mad dash to secure housing in Isla Vista for the 2011-2012 academic year has begun!” Wolfe and Associates — Isla Vista’s largest provider of owner-owned-and-operated housing — posted on its website this week.

The housing hunt may resemble a ‘mad dash’ at times, but the reality is that there is no shortage of properties to choose from in I.V. The general rule of thumb is that the closer you want to live to the beach and the edge of UCSB campus, the more competitive obtaining a spot becomes.

In many cases, residents will have to pay more and vie for spots if they want an ocean-front view or quicker access to campus — some of the pricier properties on Del Playa can cost significantly more than the average $600-$700 a month most student residents of Isla Vista can expect to pay to share a room with a roommate.

“Welcome to Del Playa Rentals,” the owner-owned and operated company’s website states. “We have the most spectacular ocean views in the area. All of our properties are new or newly remodeled with ample parking.”

According to James Gelb, owner of Del Playa Rentals— the largest rental housing provider on Del Playa Drive— the street is notorious for its fast-paced party culture and beach views and is the first region in Isla Vista to book up every year.

“No college student wants to commute and obviously there are social implications [to living in I.V.],” Gelb said.

Gelb’s company, Del Playa Rentals, for instance, began accepting applications in November, and has already secured residents for the 2011-2012 school year at 34 of its 35 properties.

However, application periods are also just starting for numerous housing options in the area.

The Options:

According to the CHO, student tenants in Isla Vista can choose to seek out apartments, duplexes, condominiums, houses, co-operative housing, sorority and fraternity houses, and UCSB-owned housing such as on-campus residence halls, off-campus apartments and family student housing.

From the ACS results, approximately 48 percent of Isla Vista residents lived below the national poverty level between 2005 and 2009, compared to the national average of just over 13 percent. However, 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr said, the fact that most students make a very limited income likely skews those results.

Nevertheless, the fact that nearly half of I.V. residents are UCSB students and that nearly half of I.V. residents were reported living beneath the poverty line emphasizes the struggle that most students face in keeping with the requirements of living and attending school in the area, not the least of which is the financial toll.

An in-demand alternative to traditional residences, the Santa Barbara Student Housing Cooperative was formed in 1976 by a group of students with the intentions of providing low-rent co-operative housing and avoiding “slum conditions” in I.V.

Applications for the co-op, which presently either owns or controls four houses in Isla Vista, are accessible at sbcoop.org starting Friday at 12:01 a.m.

Membership services coordinator Josh Redman said the co-op is prized for its community values, relatively cheaper rent and personalized features such as the Dashain House at 6719 Sabado Tarde — designated as a vegetarian co-op.

“It’s a different kind of relationship,” Redman said. “There are no landlords, just a board of directors and staff. There’s still security deposits and there’s still damages that need to be paid for sometimes, but we try to have people address these issues before just deducting money from deposits.”

According to Redman, the typical cost of sharing a room in a co-op in I.V. is around $400 a month, in addition to a monthly room and board charge.

“Although we do charge for room and board, you cook and eat together so it ends up being cheaper than most other options in I.V. I believe our pricing is about 70 percent below market value,” Redman said.

Among other options for residency, Isla Vista is home to privately owned off-campus residence halls.

Prior to the start of the academic year, the privately owned residence hall Tropicana Gardens purchased its neighboring competitor, Fontainebleu, gaining two new locations — one on 6525 El Colegio and another at 811 Camino Pescadero Road. The newly renamed “Tropicana Del Norte” (previously Fontainebleu) and “Villas at Tropicana” (previously the Fontainebleu Annex) are extensions of the Tropicana housing options in I.V. and have been renovated in anticipation of next year.

In addition to its recent expansion, the Tropicana residence halls and villas will be making a huge change to its operation strategy next year, when it seperates housing for UCSB and SBCC students into Tropicana Del Norte and Tropicana Gardens, respectively.

[media-credit id=16616 align=”alignleft” width=”247″][/media-credit]“This way, all 500 SBCC students at Trop [Gardens] will be like-minded and staffing can be totally geared towards our CC students, and Trop Del Norte will likewise serve the UCSB students.” David Wilcox, Executive Director for the Tropicana Gardens, said.

Interestingly, the company that now owns all three Tropicana properties was heralded in the Wall Street Journal late last year as the real estate “deal of the week,” due to Tropicana Gardens’ nonexistent vacancy rate prior to aqcuiring it’s competitor, Fontainebleu, which had a 50 percent booking rate.

According to Wilcox, due to increased demand and the Tropicana’s populatrity, the newest properties expect to be at nearly 90 percent capacity for next year.

Rooms in private homes are scarce to non-existent in Isla Vista, largely because of required start-up costs up to several thousand dollars, although they appear as more common options in Goleta and Santa Barbara.

In a league of its own, the Greek system does offer housing to UCSB students, however students must be selected as pledges through a grueling rush process in order to gain a spot in the system.

Additionally, UCSB owns single student housing facilities both on and off campus, as well as two university-owned family student housing complexes on the West Campus.

Potential Legal Issues:

In addition to securing a spot on a lease in time for next year, there is still plenty of time to take steps to protect yourself as a tenant in your current or future living situations.

According to the California Tenant’s handbook, “tenants have basic legal rights that are always present, no matter what the rental agreement or lease states.” These rights include limits on the amount landlords can make you pay for a security deposit, constraints on landlords’ rights to enter rental units without prior warning, and the right to a refund of your security deposit after you moved, or at least a written explanation of why you wouldn’t be refunded.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Robin Unander, a lawyer on retainer for UCSB’s Associated Students, also works for the Isla Vista Tenant’s Union, an A.S. group dedicated to ensuring and improving tenant’s rights in Isla Vista. According to her, it is absolutely critical that residents understand the terms of any lease they sign and keep written records of all agreements with their landlords.

“Students should be aware of the legal bindings of lease agreements and potential problems that can arise during the leasing process,” she said. “The lease they sign is like shackles, it legally binds them.


As you complete your newest housing quest, you’ll find that there are a host of accessible resources available for Isla Vista student tenants.

The UCSB CHO, for example, offers a multitude of services designed to protect UCSB student tenants and boost their area living experience, such as move-in and move-out videotaping services from the CHO, free legal advice from the IVTU and A.S. Legal Resource Center, and an array of other offerings.

These services are a boon if you choose to use them. If not, that’s fine. Regardless, any way you wish to look at it, diligence to the housing process will aid you in every step of the way.