Not the Only One

Thursday, January 10, 2013
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I hope this means that Steve Wiley is committed to putting as much energy into going after all the other terrible landlords in Santa Barbara. Their numbers are legion. What Santa Barbara needs in a mechanism for anonymously reporting these landlords and a regular inspection schedule, report or no report. Santa Barbara also needs a way to put a cheap printed summary of the habitability, security deposit, discrimination, and a few other laws into the hands of all prospective tenants. Maybe the Independent could print it once a year or quarterly.

Landlords get away with all kinds of nonsense because tenants do not actually know that landlords are not allowed to routinely deduct carpet shampooing and cleaning fees from the security deposit. Tenants do not know that if their rental agreement includes an illegal provision, that provision is completely unenforceable, even if the tenant signed the agreement. Tenants do not know the habitability laws or that they are readily available online at the government websites for California, the City of Santa Barbara and also Santa Barbara County. Also see the S.B. Anti-Discrimination Ordinance, especially chapter 26:30.

A few more facts: Santa Barbara rents may be “market” rents, but they are far from fair market rents. S.B. median income is comparable to the national median income, yet the rents way outpace the ability of a median-wage earner to afford a mid-sized apartment. A 2 bedroom/1 bath advertised for $1800 requires an annual income of $64,800, or approximately $32/hour. The typical tenant makes less than that. For that outrageously exorbitant rent, the crummy, uninsulated apartment is likely to lack off-street parking, laundry facilities or both. HUD has determined that the 2012 fair market rent for a 2/1 apartment in the 93101 zip code to be $1310/month. Yet some landlords want that for their crummy studios.

City staff have found that “(a) The County of Santa Barbara is experiencing a rapid reduction of the supply of rental housing available to low and moderate-income residents. Rents have been increasing rapidly and vacancies in rental housing are at historically low levels, making it increasingly difficult for residents, especially those with low incomes, to locate affordable rental housing. (b) Several rental units and rooms in Santa Barbara County have been found to have severe code violations, which threaten the safety of the residents and require the units or rooms to be vacated to allow for extensive repairs.” More than 60% of Santa Barbara residents rent. Nationally, more than 60% of residents own their homes.

Landlords think that if a tenant signs the rental agreement, they must be actually agreeing to the rent. Landlords like to ignore the fact that people are compelled to put a roof over their heads. Because there are so few rentals, the competitive market that serves to discipline landlords in other communities fails to operate in Santa Barbara. Even worse, many landlords disdain “the renting class” as irresponsible people who could buy a house in Santa Barbara if they were not drinking and smoking their money away. How could over 60% of all residents be so judged? And the exorbitant rents trap the financially responsible tenants into being renters forever. Meanwhile, when new housing goes up, such as that on Chapala and Victoria, it prices out almost everyone.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

In other words, a Higher percentage of Working Poor Homeless which on an increase for the last 15 years and throughout the Country.

dou4now (anonymous profile)
January 10, 2013 at 6:05 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Maybe if we build more luxury condos that will help. And let's just make all the jobs low paying service jobs.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 10, 2013 at 10:36 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Call the Rental Mediation Task Force - great for forms, landlord-tenant law, etc. The city council is trying to destroy it by cutting its budget, and it's our only tenant resource - SBPD is ignorant about landlord-tenant law, escalates problems with their adversarial, in-the-face behavior, refuses to enforce some CA rental law (rental to a lodger), recommends actions that violate both landlords' and tenants' legal rights, and is insanely expensive compared to RMTF, mostly volunteers.

14noscams (anonymous profile)
January 13, 2013 at 8:07 p.m. (Suggest removal)

14noscams, you can't underestimate the value of both writing your City Council members; and speaking up for a cause at a meeting.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 13, 2013 at 8:15 p.m. (Suggest removal)

... "HUD has determined that the 2012 fair market rent for a 2/1 apartment in the 93101 zip code to be $1310/month. Yet some landlords want that for their crummy studios." ...

I'm sorry. HUD des not "determine" rental rates in Santa Barbara or anywhere else. That is done by something called the free market. Landlords charge what they can get. Wouldn't you do the same thing with your used car or old computer? Or should a government agency also "determine" those prices as well?

richardatlf1 (anonymous profile)
January 14, 2013 at 6:01 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Landlords certainly should abide by the law, maintain a safe environment for their tenants and maintain their properties well. Landlords should be honest in their dealings with tenants. For instance, they shouldn't deduct carpet shampooing from the deposit, but there's no problem with requiring a tenant to get the carpet shampooed at the tenant's expense upon vacating the unit.

But where does this person get off on telling a landlord what they should charge for their units? Landlords own the property and are free to charge what they please. If they don't like it, go rent from somewhere else. If they can't find a place to live in Santa Barbara at a price they are willing to pay, they can go live somewhere else.

Botany (anonymous profile)
January 14, 2013 at 9:10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I do accept your point in parag. 2, Botany. However, businesses here WANT plenty of working poor available to take some of the low-paying jobs so critical for our town. We have a situation where even lower-middle income can't find apartments at any sort of reasonable rate, & $1300 is a lot for a tiny 2/1 apt. on the Westside. When we have a natural catastrophe, say an earthquake, and most of our first responders [fire, police, health workers] are obliged to live far away, then they won't be able to get here to assist or they will be assisting right where they Lompoc or Guadaloupe or some other fair city in our County. It is a conundrum.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
January 14, 2013 at 11:31 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The only way Richard can make his point is to avoid the phrase "fair market value" (FMV). FMV means the value when both parties to the transaction each possess full knowledge, and neither party is under compulsion. Tenants do not possess full knowledge and are under compulsion. They need to put a roof over their heads. HUD has full knowledge and therefore is able to analyze FMV for every zipcode in America.

At least landlords should be willing to provide decent housing for their high rents, especially since tenants are told that the high rent is the cost of living in sunshine. Instead, rentals tends to be cold, dark and in pretty awful condition. Landlords even refuse to do repairs. According to the California tenant-landlord handbook, tenants are allowed by law to repair and deduct the cost from the rent. However, the handbook also points out there is a risk to the tenant. The landlord might give notice.

In a normal town, proper competition keeps landlords honest. There are so few rentals in Santa Barbara that nothing can make a landlord charge fair rents and properly fulfill their responsibility except the landlord's own Golden Rule ethic, something obviously in woefully short supply in Santa Barbara.

Not deducting carpet shampooing from the deposit, but requiring the tenants to pay for shampooing is essentially the same as deducting from the deposit. Tenants are only obligated to leave a unit "broom clean" with "normal wear and tear" to recover their full deposit. Those detailed cleaning lists some landlords require are unreasonable. Furthermore, it is almost impossible for a tenant to avoid paying double rent for at least part of a month even though the tenant has given a proper 30-day notice. At Santa Barbara "market" (not FMV) rents, landlords are keeping plenty of the tenant's money.

And why so many of them have a problem with pets is beyond me. Most of their units are so poor that the pet makes no real difference. Landlords should be more careful about screening their tenants. Over the past two years, there have been three sets of party animals in the rental house next door. You can tell by looking that those tenants would be problems. Yet landlords routinely refuse clean, quiet, reliable tenants who also happen to be savvy, that is, have the knowledge most tenants lack regarding legal rentals, habitability laws, etc, etc.

lucas (anonymous profile)
January 15, 2013 at 11:56 a.m. (Suggest removal)

DrDan states that "Tenants do not possess full knowledge and are under compulsion. They need to put a roof over their heads." So what? There is no right to live in Santa Barbara. If someone can't afford it here then they should reevaluate their lifestyle choices and look for less expensive digs. Wow, I'll bet the geniuses at HUD calculate the "fair market value" of a one bedroom apartment in NYC as $1,500 per month. That is absurd and has no relation to economic reality. Just because a government agency suggests something that doesn't mean it is true or real.

You state that "In a normal town, proper competition keeps landlords honest. There are so few rentals in Santa Barbara that nothing can make a landlord charge fair rents and properly fulfill their responsibility". News flash: Santa Barbara is not a "normal" town. It is a wealthy, exclusive enclave and that is why certain people choose to live and vacation here. If you want a "normal" town then I have two words for you - hello Cleveland.

Please go take economics 101. That "there are so few rentals in Santa Barbara" is the reason why landlords can charge more for less. Supply and demand. I am sure you would love to use the force of government to "compel" owners to charge "fair market value" according to a formula that you devise. I'll pass.

richardatlf1 (anonymous profile)
January 18, 2013 at 12:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

My apologies to DrDan. I referenced the wrong letter writer. My response was for Lucas.

richardatlf1 (anonymous profile)
January 18, 2013 at 12:52 p.m. (Suggest removal)

@richard, apologies accepted. And I've had econ 101.
@ Botany, when you write "they can go live somewhere else" it reflects your hardass/ultra libertarian lack of compassion, but also reflects lack of sense. Example: you whined about paying parcel taxes and so on under Prop 30 (which you mercilessly excoriated)...and you also hammered public ed. When many local public school teachers have to spend say 45 minutes to an hour each way to teach in SB schools...that time comes out of working for quality teaching and preparation with our kids. It makes sense to subsidize affordable housing for these and other critical jobs we need in our town. Yes, OUR town. I think it's called community: do you know that that is?

DrDan (anonymous profile)
January 18, 2013 at 1:53 p.m. (Suggest removal)

To Richard, the only sustainable business philosophy is the Golden Rule, based on mutual appreciation and respect. Landlords should offer good quality homes for fair rents, and tenants should pay their rent and return the property in good condition.

I have no intention of devising on my own a Fair rental value. In your diatribe, you do not dispute the definition of fair market value. Instead you try to dismiss the characteristics of FMV as somehow irrelevant. Nor did I suggest blindly trusting a government agency. You do not need a government agency to tell you that SB rents are unfair. In fact, you seem to agree that they are unfair.

You are right. Santa Barbara is not a normal town. Million dollar houses are dark, poorly built, and have no insulation. Lots of people defend SB's high prices as what you pay to live in sunny SB. But people are not getting what they pay for.

A society can be healthy only when it includes all its members. The guy living in the wealthy enclave still needs someone to scan his grocery, clean his teeth, cut his grass, serve his meal, etc, etc. All those people should have access to decent housing at fair rent. To the extent that Santa Barbara is not healthy, it is sick.

If landlords continue treat their tenants improperly, they should not be surprised if one day the chickens come home to roost, and SB ends up with rent control like some other sick communities in California. There are many reasons why there are so few rentals, and one is that the renter-to-owner ratio in SB (65/35) is exactly backwards compared to healthy communities.

lucas (anonymous profile)
January 20, 2013 at 4:33 p.m. (Suggest removal)

They always gush about the view but ignore there's just a hole where the toilet should be.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 20, 2013 at 4:38 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Hey Lucas - the reason people pay $1800/month rent is because there are enough people willing to pay that in SB. If there were NOT enough people to pay $1800/month rent, then the rental rates would drop. Fair is a personal point of view, not an economic reality. If someone doesn't want to pay $1800 for an uninsulated apartment, then they should not pay it. No one is being forced to pay high rent.

RE: being taken advantage of, etc.
1. Most of the people getting taken advantage of are here in this country illegally and don't want to make a fuss or raise their profile for fear of the consequences. They choose to be here illegally and they choose to have American children while they are here illegally.

2. The rest of the people being taken advantage of choose not to educate themselves about the law or access widely available and free information/pamphlets.These people are not forced by anyone to be ignorant or uninformed.

Housing is not a right. Your rights are in the constitution and housing is not listed. What people should have is exactly what they earn through hard work, personal responsibility, informing themselves and sacrificing immediate gratification for future benefit.

willy88 (anonymous profile)
January 22, 2013 at 7:53 p.m. (Suggest removal)

@willy,for a complete education on the tenant/landlord gap, see this thread

lucas (anonymous profile)
January 26, 2013 at 9:54 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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