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.


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