Santa Barbara building inspectors red-tagged a rental property owned by landlord Dario Pini at 317 South Canada Street on the city’s Eastside, ordering the three families living there to vacate immediately because of raw sewage under the premises and lack of heat. Pini, who disputes the presence of raw sewage, agreed to put up the tenants — seven adults and nine kids sharing a three-bedroom bungalow — for three days in one of his motels.
The legal battles between City Hall and Pini — famous for his large number of rental units as well as building and safety-code violations — has become the stuff of urban legend. But this is the first time either Pini or John Doimas, the city attorney bird-dogging him, can recall one of Pini’s properties getting flat-out shut down. “On a scale of one to 10, this is a 10,” said Doimas.
Pini claims longtime former employee Seth Bruckner is pursuing a vendetta against him. He claims Bruckner, a onetime foreman and an essential member of Pini’s team before his suspension several months ago, has been alerting building inspectors to possible violations; in addition, Pini has accused Bruckner of vandalizing several of his properties, including the South Canada Street rental. Pini claims various properties have been vandalized to the tune of $15,000 and that Bruckner is behind it. Police forwarded Pini’s complaint to the District Attorney’s Office. On November 13, the DA declined to prosecute, explaining civil remedies exist for Pini to pursue. In the meantime, Pini has sought and obtained temporary restraining orders barring Bruckner from his properties.
Bruckner claims he had been invited by the tenants to make repairs to the property. He said he removed a wall-mounted electric heater that he said was defective and not permitted. Likewise, Bruckner denies he cut a pipe under the house leading to the kitchen sink, as Pini has alleged. (Pini insists that what some tenants, the building inspectors, and Bruckner contend is raw sewage is in reality dirty water from the kitchen sink coupled with grease deposits.)
Pini said he found temporary housing for his tenants out of concern for the children but insisted he was not legally required to do so. City police acknowledge they were called by Pini to stop Bruckner from making repairs on November 8. According to Sergeant Riley Harwood, the tenants talked highly of Bruckner’s repairs, adding that they’d tried to get Pini to fix the problems for two months without any success. City police have long expressed concern that some of Pini’s properties have functioned as breeding grounds for criminal misconduct. The South Canada Street address has had 37 calls for police service since 2008, said Harwood.