Dario Pini

Paul Wellman

Dario Pini

Public Nuisance Number One?

City Hall Throws Book at Landlord Dario Pini

Wednesday, December 12, 2012
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After months of inspections and legal preparation, Santa Barbara’s City Attorney Steve Wiley lowered the boom on one of the biggest landlords on the South Coast last week, charging previously convicted slumlord Dario Pini with enough Health and Safety Code violations that Pini could find himself looking at combined penalties of $16,400 for every day they occur.

While the size of the potential fine is eye-catching, Wiley and Pini have been playing cat-and-mouse over the conditions of Pini’s apartments ever since the early 1990s. What’s new is that Wiley is now asking a Superior Court judge to grant City Hall authority to make all necessary repairs to bring 26 of the 100 rental properties Pini owns within city limits up to code if Pini doesn’t make them himself. For its efforts, City Hall would send Pini a bill. Newer still is Wiley’s demand that Pini’s properties be placed in a receivership to be administered by a court-appointed third party. In Santa Barbara, that’s never been done before.

Wiley explained there was no “light-bulb moment” inspiring so dramatic a legal action. “We get lots of complaints from Dario’s tenants. We get lots of complaints from his neighbors. And we always have a handful of enforcement actions going against him,” Wiley said. “Every few years, you have to do something to get his attention.”

A Dario Pini tenant who has repeatedly asked for new paint and carpeting. This patch in the hallway appears to not only be worn but also without padding, and the carpet looks like it had been previously installed at a different location. (Dec. 12, 2012)
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

A Dario Pini tenant who has repeatedly asked for new paint and carpeting. This patch in the hallway appears to not only be worn but also without padding, and the carpet looks like it had been previously installed at a different location. (Dec. 12, 2012)

This, it appears, has worked. Pini and his attorney Larry Powell are now pressing Wiley for a sit-down meeting to discuss an accelerated repair schedule. Wiley said he’s willing to meet, but only on the condition that a judge is authorized to find Pini in contempt of court if he doesn’t do the repairs in a timely fashion.

In a recent interview, Pini stressed he’s already begun taking remedial steps. In the instance of an East Gutierrez Street address with two illegal rental units located in the crawl space under the building, Pini said he immediately cleaned up all the problems cited by city inspectors on July 12 and has the signatures of those inspectors on the paperwork to prove it. (The ceiling height of the crawl space rooms was six to seven feet.) Pini said many of the allegations leveled against him stemmed from inspections that took place this July. “That’s six months ago,” he said. “That’s a long time to wait if the problems were really that dangerous.”

Wiley isn’t saying anyone got injured from living in Pini’s properties, just that the accommodations constitute a “public nuisance” to Pini’s tenants and to their neighbors. The lawsuit alleges that balconies, garages, dining rooms, living rooms, and even kitchens in Pini’s properties have been converted to sleeping quarters. Bedrooms have been illegally subdivided. Yards overflow with an abundance of uncollected trash. Driveways are occupied by RVs and campers that are rented out. The vans in the parking lot at one property are allegedly used for prostitution. In one attic, there’s an active beehive; in one interior hallway, there’s a refrigerator small, untended kids can climb into. Smoke detectors are conspicuous by their absence; exposed wires conspicuous by their presence. In one, the odor of raw urine and fecal matter is inescapable. Junk is everywhere. At several, the lawsuit alleges, front yards have been converted to construction staging areas with mounds of lumber and other building materials. At some, doors are broken, drains don’t work, and tarps substitute for functioning roofs.

A Dario Pini tenant says he empties a wastebasket full of water twice a day from a leak under the sink. (Dec. 12, 2012)
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

A Dario Pini tenant says he empties a wastebasket full of water twice a day from a leak under the sink. (Dec. 12, 2012)

A onetime minor league ballplayer from the Bay area, Pini has been renting real estate in Santa Barbara since the late 1970s. The child of Italian immigrants himself, Pini said he empathizes with newcomers trying to make it in the United States — the gardeners, the maids, and the bus boys — and wants to help them out. To that end, he’s been willing to rent to people many other landlords simply won’t — large families living on the economic edge. It’s proven to be a sizable market niche, and Pini’s holdings have mushroomed over the years.

Today, Wiley estimates Pini owns 1,500 rental units, roughly 5 percent of Santa Barbara’s entire rental market. Even tenants-rights advocates who’ve grumbled at the squalid conditions of Pini’s apartments conceded that he’s proven consistently flexible when dealing with renters down on their luck and behind on their rent. Pini isn’t in the charity business, however, and his rents are hardly low. He asks $1,250-$1,550 for a one-bedroom apartment. The only way Pini’s typical tenants can pay that, Wiley said, is by cramming as many people in as possible. And that’s where the trouble begins.

Pini said he’s getting a better handle on his properties. He’s now requiring anyone staying in his units to be on the lease. But he’s also quick to suggest his critics might have unsavory motives. “Nobody’s prejudiced here. Everybody loves everyone else,” he said, “until they move in next door to them.” Pini said he also rents to many city college students, but that he doesn’t get nearly as many complaints about this “clientele.”

A water leak in the bathroom of a Dario Pini apartment causes the paint to buckle and mold to grow. (Dec. 12, 2012)
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

A water leak in the bathroom of a Dario Pini apartment causes the paint to buckle and mold to grow. (Dec. 12, 2012)

The recession, Pini said, has been especially hard on his tenants. Recent years have also been tough on him. He took a bath in Las Vegas, buying four apartment complexes — that’s 1,000 units — at the height of the real estate market. The City of Oxnard recently went after Pini for $100,000 in bed taxes it claimed he didn’t pay on hotel rooms he’d been renting out as apartments. He got hammered in Santa Maria by a tenants-rights group who sued him for $1 million over habitability issues. And the City of Santa Barbara dinged him for $45,000 earlier this year for operating rental units at the bottom of Chapala Street as de facto hotels. Loud and rowdy Exxon workers he’d rented to there intruded upon the peace and quiet of well-heeled residents, otherwise entranced by the cozy seaside charm of the West Beach neighborhood.

The police cracked down by holding two neighborhood meetings, both conspicuously attended by members of the City Council. Through it all, Pini has been remarkably congenial, direct, and responsive. But, said Wiley, that’s standard operating procedure for Pini. “He always says, ‘I’m on it.’ And he means it,” Wiley said. But when the heat disappears, Wiley said, so does Pini.

For Wiley, the issue is simply a matter of upkeep, maintenance, and repair. In the early 1990s, Wiley successfully prosecuted Pini on similar grounds. Then, Pini famously declined to serve time in one of his units, preferring instead to be sentenced to County Jail. Regardless, Pini is equally notorious for the long hours he puts in. Despite his vast real estate holdings, Pini personally responds to complaints at all hours of the night. He even pays an employee to keep an ear peeled to the police scanner for trouble at his units; cops say that by the time they show up, Pini is often already there.

Pini insists he has a workforce of 30-40 maintenance workers ready, willing, and able to respond. “Obviously that’s not enough,” Wiley retorted. “The fact is, he isn’t devoting the resources he needs to get the job done.” In an ideal world, Wiley said, Pini would retire, enjoy his wealth, and hire someone else to manage his properties. But that, said Pini’s attorney Larry Powell, is not in Pini’s character. “This guy is not a pink shirt and penny loafer guy; he works 60 hours a week,” Powell said. “That’s just what Dario does.”


Independent Discussion Guidelines

When you own that many rental units, you are bound to run into problems. Personally, I wouldn't get involved in his niche of the market. Too many problems. People complain about the condition of his units, yet he rents to people that might otherwise be out on the street.

Maybe his units are a blight on Santa Barbara, but so would more homeless be if Dario didn't rent to them. Those in Santa Barbara that want the best of both worlds are unlikely to get it. Some choices need to be made.

Botany (anonymous profile)
December 12, 2012 at 7:35 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Mr. Pini says he's getting a better handle on his properties. Oh, puhleez - he's been a nuisance for DECADES.

LegendaryYeti (anonymous profile)
December 12, 2012 at 10:30 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Thank you Botany, I don't know if I could have said it better.

By making these enforcements, the city is essentially creating more homeless and forcing Pini to raise his rental prices when in fact it is obvious that there is a market for properties with very low rental prices that aren't well kept.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
December 12, 2012 at 11:58 a.m. (Suggest removal)

If he's renting to the poor, he should put in to Section 8 for status, the Department of Housing would assist getting his properties up to code and assist in making him more legal regarding enforcement purposes. Also his ability to get loans at cost to perform these upgrades and repairs would be benefitial to him and his tenants.

dou4now (anonymous profile)
December 12, 2012 at 12:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Well he is obviously not doing it very well. I wonder if any of these fines or lawsuits really sting? It would seem not at all. Just because someone is down on their luck doesn't mean they should be taken advantage of. I don't think the repairs they are talking about here would really tip the scales. 30 to 40 guys should be able to get it done, or there are a lot of places and contractors around that could get it done. He is hemming and hawing all the way to the bank. I am glad the city is trying to do something about it.

bimboteskie (anonymous profile)
December 12, 2012 at 2:07 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Great portrait of Pini, Nick. I loved it. This guy really belongs in a novel. Dickens maybe?

blackpoodles (anonymous profile)
December 12, 2012 at 8 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Years ago I went to an open house for Pini's house on Ashley Rd in Montecito that was for sale. His own residence house was as bad as the pictures of his rentals.

loneranger (anonymous profile)
December 12, 2012 at 8:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I'm not here to either defend or bury Pini. However, I own an rental unit and I once rented it out cheap to people of small means. I thought that I was doing them a favor by renting them a house at 60% of market value. I told them to let me know of any repairs that needed doing and would have them done quickly. They trashed my little house. I kicked them out and ever since have only rented to middle class folks who can pass a background check. Pini may not be doing all he can to keep his units in good repair, but sometimes things can get torn down at a rate much faster than you can keep the up. Just saying.

Eckermann (anonymous profile)
December 12, 2012 at 8:56 p.m. (Suggest removal)

If they were owned by me, I'd fix the places up better, get better tenants and enforce the rules better. Of course there would be fewer people in the units and more people either in other dilapidated housing owned by others or living out on the streets. Pick your poison.

Botany (anonymous profile)
December 12, 2012 at 10:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

This guy crawled out of a drain!

Is he ashamed of himself?

He sure should be. Disgusting.

How can he look in the mirror when she shaves?

I do not get people who have no conscience!

That is why they are called......"sociopaths" That is what he is!

No conscience! He needs to be "taken away"!


penelopeb (anonymous profile)
December 14, 2012 at 12:35 a.m. (Suggest removal)

No. There is such a thing as the "right thing to do"
He doesn't

Shame on him!!!!!

And shame on us for permitting this!


penelopeb (anonymous profile)
December 14, 2012 at 12:40 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Photo caption: "Stand back or I'll shoot...yes, these fingers are loaded".

billclausen (anonymous profile)
December 14, 2012 at 3:02 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I've known him for years. On one hand, he rents property at a level that does not sustain fabulous maintenance and in fact provides a service to people that would otherwise be living in someones garage. On the other hand, I really do think he is nuts, medically nuts, as a part of his personality does not want to learn from his mistakes and he invites being fined and excoriated.
I stopped renting to the lower economic classes because they always trashed my units, intentionally bailed on rent, and pretty much made my life miserable so I upgraded them and priced the units out of the lower market. Then I got really smart and retreated almost entirely from the SB housing market because the city made me crazy...

italiansurg (anonymous profile)
December 14, 2012 at 2:10 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I’ve been a DPinvestment construction worker most of my life.

I cannot count how many times I have entirely re-done each apartment complex, properties, and hotels, yet they get trashed over and over again.
When you have worked at a business that you love for as long and as strenuous as he has, it would be a long, complicated, tedious campaign to remodel or refurbish each property from city to city. It’s amazing how the majority of people who go out of their way to write or type something negative about my father, when he has done more good for the benefit of people everywhere than compared to all of the people who talk bad about him put together. Yet they continue to talk bad about a person who has accomplished being a real successful, real man. Why doesn't everyone all look at it this way? Dario has helped a countless number of people. From being a creator of jobs at front desks, construction, painting, plumbing, office jobs, commissioning architects, to employing friends that ask me for a chance to be able to work with me on my jobsite. How could you call him "number one nuisance" if he helps so many people? If America had more people like Dario Pini the world would be a better place because the ratio would be 200 plus jobs for every grown man, or women, if you have the charisma and the willpower to build an empire. Think after 30- 40 years of employing imagine how many jobs he has given to people. Defiantly more than Obama has in his life. (In reality I don't recognize borrowing trillions then redistributing the money to various companies who continue to pay their CEOs' millions for salary bonuses when were at an all-time low in our economy situation.) Bottom line the Independent calls him "Slum Lord of the Year" and more recently "Public Nuisance Number One" when in reality the real nuisance in today’s society is the people who mildly, moderately slide through life achieving the bare minimum just to live comfortly.

DPWorker (anonymous profile)
December 15, 2012 at 2:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Such as the people who make their living sitting behind a desk typing badly about other. Its people like that who keep our economy from growing or getting better, because there is no helping to create growth. If we had a static economy how long would America have until it went under? How have any of you at independent ever achieved helping grow our economy? Declare independence from Santa Barbara News Press? Or win some award for writing?? Well that sure doesn’t create jobs for anyone else. The newspaper company only helps those who pay for advertisement and themselves. Yet they call someone who used to play semi pro-ball for Oakland, a teacher for 20 years, a creator of countless jobs, and employs around 200 people "Public Enemy Nuisance Number One". Well I wonder what you call the people who sit at their desks day after day, year after year writing about the world instead of helping to build it. This last thanksgiving Dario Pini gave 60+ turkeys to people who needed them just to help those who needed it. And In his memory I will give 600 turkeys, and hopefully god willing one day 6000 turkeys. What have or done any of you to help? I would love to hear if there is something charitable you did to help people in need. Thanks again for calling my father "Public Nuisance Number One". No matter what you say or do nobody will ever amount to the heart and compassion he has shown and given the people who needed it. In conclusion I cannot count how many times I have seen him give a roof to a family that does not have one, or to who does not have a job given one. Yet year after year I continuously see Slum Lord this and public nuisance that... But my question to everyone who reads this is, is the man who tries, tries again at creating a business the slum lord, or is the slum lord the ones who ruin or do not scold their children for scuffing what has freshly been mended time and time again?? Is the "public nuisance" the man who has been burdened to deal with and fix everyone else’s problems? Or are the real public nuisances the people who create them or even do not create anything at all?

DPWorker (anonymous profile)
December 15, 2012 at 2:32 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I suppose the defense of your father (if that is correct) is understandable, "DPWorker" but it wasn't the Independent who called Dario Pini a "Public Nuisance" or "Slumlord of the Year."

It's Santa Barbara City Attorney Wiley's lawsuit which brought up the term "public nuisance."

An NOBODY called him "Slumlord of the Year" (yet). I believe you refer to this article, when Pini was nominated to the 'Landlord Hall of Shame."

- - Tuesday, May 10, 2011, By Tyler Hayden:

- Dario Pini Nominated to Landlord Hall of Shame

- Renters’ Rights Organization Looks to ‘Shine a Public Spotlight’ on the ‘Bad Apple’

- "Though it’s been a few years since Dario Pini was in the news for renting dirty and dilapidated housing to low-income residents and foreign students, his disgruntled tenants haven’t forgotten about him. Fielding recommendations from this group, Tenants Together – a statewide organization that fights for renters’ rights – just nominated Pini to its Landlord Hall of Shame."

Don't blame the messenger.

(And if Pini is so gosh-darn charitable, why doesn't he buy a few less turkeys, and just follow the law?)

Chester_Arthur_Burnett (anonymous profile)
December 15, 2012 at 6:34 p.m. (Suggest removal)

It's about damn time this scumlord has his wallet pinched by the city. So tired of reading about this guy for the past 20+ years. I wonder how much he's paying DPWorker for failing to cover for him. Too little, too late. Throw the book, the printing press, the library at Pini. Comply or surrender your slummy assets..

Draxor (anonymous profile)
December 15, 2012 at 8:30 p.m. (Suggest removal)

HAHAHAH surrender slummy assets?!? don’t make me @#$!%&@ laugh any harder, he completed 70 to 80 % of what needed to be done in the first week from that last article 'public nuisance'. But what’s even more hilarious is how you would continue to talk bad about the guy, especially for twenty plus years!!!??? WOW you have been talking bad about my dad longer than I been around! It really shows how jealous you are that he has started out with nothing and worked his way to the top. His parents were born in Italy, grew up in the great depression so he was raised with bare minimum, with as little as possible and he still succeeded a successful business and helps people with housing, jobs, and even helps people open their own businesses. So many of the small places you go to, maybe even your favorite little taco shop or pizza parlor could have been thanks to the man you slander. He does so much more than so many of you people give him credit for. I'm tired of arguing against people talking bad about my family. Keep feeding fuel to the fire!! I like to have something new to read that is relevant to my life!

DPWorker (anonymous profile)
December 16, 2012 at 1:04 p.m. (Suggest removal)

dou4now: Re Section 8 status requiring compliance with code - I have a friend who convinced a prospective landlord to rent his property under Section 8. Code doesn't allow broken glass, but allowed the landlord to remove the broken glass tub enclosure door without replacing it - a bathroom that floods when the shower is used is Section 8 compliant.

14noscams (anonymous profile)
January 2, 2013 at 1:27 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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