Judge Colleen Sterne ruled Monday that the City of Santa Barbara’s “unfair competition” lawsuit against landlord Dario Pini for building code violations can continue, rejecting a motion by Pini’s attorney to have the case dismissed on procedural grounds. In legal filings, City Attorney Ariel Calonne cited more than 3,200 building and safety violations in 13 downtown properties. These were revealed during a police-assisted inspection raid in December. Pini’s lack of compliance, Calonne has argued, has given him an unfair competitive edge over landlords who adhere to city code and has inflicted an unacceptable burden on the tenants who have to endure the rodent-infested, substandard housing Pini provides.
Pini’s attorney Paul Burns accused Calonne of padding the statistics and defaming his client. He noted that Pini himself lives in one of the 13 properties in question and that two are unoccupied hotels. He also charged that Calonne counted the same violations multiple times. Of the ruling, Burns said it’s rare for a judge to reject out-of-hand a case brought by the government. He expressed confidence that Sterne would weigh the evidence fairly. “She will look at the facts, not the rhetoric, hyperbole, and defamation,” Burns said.
In court filings, Calonne charged that Pini targeted tenants who complied with city building inspectors by raising their rents by hundreds of dollars. “That’s absolutely untrue,” stated Burns, who noted that his client will now notify City Hall in advance of any rent increase he intends to make. After conducting last December’s inspection sweep, Calonne filed legal papers against Pini, demanding $8.1 million in penalties. In addition, Calonne may petition Sterne to appoint a special receiver to assume control of Pini’s properties within city limits. How much property Pini owns is a matter of conjecture, but according to county records, the property taxes he pays on his rental units is the 15th highest in the county.