Despite repeated claims made by Dario Pini’s lawyer that he had $10 million in cash and was ready to start work rectifying thousands of building code violations alleged by City Hall, the $8 million lawsuit waged by Santa Barbara against the South Coast’s most notorious landlord will go on. For Pini and his lawyer Paul Burns, Judge Colleen Sterne’s finely parsed, densely packed, 19-page ruling was a decided setback. They had hoped to persuade Sterne that the city’s claims should be tossed out of court on procedural grounds. Worse yet for Pini — and the attorneys in court representing many of the lenders invested in 13 of his rental properties in question — Sterne granted the city’s request for a temporary restraining order that bars any of the lenders from selling or transferring their interests pending the outcome of this high-stakes legal showdown.
The long-term strategy hatched by City Attorney Ariel Calonne is to get Sterne to place the 13 properties into a court-ordered receivership and use the proceeds to bring the properties up to legal snuff and relocate tenants displaced in the process. If a receivership is approved, the lenders will collect only if there’s anything left after such expenditures. An attorney for one lender said his client felt “caught between the Hatfields and the McCoys” and pledged to do what’s necessary to clean the properties up.
Legal warfare between Pini and City Hall dates back to the 1990s, when a previous city attorney filed criminal charges against him. In that case, Pini got a suspended sentence of 30 days in jail and three years probation. More recently, city inspectors conducted a raid on 13 Pini properties last December. In some, Calonne said, inspectors found as many as 20 people living in two-bedroom units. In court, he expressed concern that Pini lacked “the capability” to change his ways.