On Thursday, April 7, the Rental Housing Roundtable (RHR) of Santa Barbara held a town hall forum to discuss what it describes as “the crisis of tenants’ rights in the County of Santa Barbara.” The event, which coincided with the ten-year anniversary of the Isla Vista Tenants Union, was meant to draw attention to the issue as the County Board of Supervisors will soon consider amending a landlord-tenants ordinance – County Ordinance 4444 – thus putting more tabs and restrictions on landlords of residential properties in Santa Barbara. According to representatives, the RHR is seeking this action in response to a number recent evictions within the Isla Vista community.
In 2008, 36 families were reportedly evicted from the Modoc Apartment complex right before the holiday season. Other evictions similar to this one, say RHR representatives, have occurred throughout Isla Vista, leaving tenants with very little compensation and questioning their rights. According to Belen Seara, co-chair of the RHR, landlords evict families from rundown apartment complexes, then remodel the apartments and rent them out to students for a higher rate. “There is a way to do business properly. There is a model to follow, and I think it’s the owner’s personal choice” said Seara.
The requested amendments for Ordinance 4444 include implementing a penalty fee for landlords who fail to report evictions, increasing the eviction notification period from 60 to 90 days, heightening organization between the community, public agencies, landlords and tenants to educate tenants of their rights and duties, establishing a formal process and department to oversea eviction tracking, increasing relocation payments for evicted tenants, and expanding the categories of the ordinance to include citing eviction for demolition, remodeling, and rezoning of land use.
At the meeting, there were various testimonials from Isla Vistans who have been evicted. One tenant, Rosina Mendoza, explained how during the rainy season, her apartment would grow mold on the ceiling. Every year she notified the landlord of this health hazard, and every year the landlord merely painted over the mold. Isaac Catalan, a member of one of the families evicted from Murdoch in 2008, said that he is working to organize with his fellow evicted tenants to propel change and that, with the assistance of P.U.E.B.L.O., his family had gained an extra month after being evicted to look for new housing and were given back their initial deposit.
“My children asked me where we would live if we didn’t find a new place… maybe under a bridge. I am supporting this legislation in order to receive the security that would come with this legislation,” said Catalan.
At the meeting, 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr acknowledged that many tenants do not report problems with their apartment because they fear being cited or being forced to pay for the damages. As a result, the apartments become unsafe on uninhabitable, she said, and then the landlords are forced to evict the tenants.
One tenant responded to Farr’s statement by replying, “How can we speak out about our situations when we are afraid to speak up due to the consequences?”