Judge Colleen Sterne ruled that seven downtown Santa Barbara apartment complexes owned by landlord Dario Pini were so substandard that their residents were “substantially endangered.” Sterne found that Pini had been given ample opportunity by city inspectors to remedy these deficiencies, that he had failed to do so, and that the conditions “will likely persist” unless legal control of these complexes is stripped from Pini and they are given to a court-ordered receiver to manage and rehabilitate.
Sterne’s action came after a four-day hearing last month and constitutes an unprecedented development in the long-festering tensions between Pini — one of the biggest landlords in all of Santa Barbara County — and City Hall over the slum-like conditions of his housing. City inspections reports bulge with accounts of rats, bedbugs, fleas, cockroaches, overflowing trash, rotting wood, and severe overcrowding. Judge Sterne gave receiver William J. Hoffman authority to collect Pini’s rents and incur debt to raise funds to rehabilitate the properties. In addition, these funds can be used to relocate Pini’s tenants, if necessary. Pini himself pledged $2 million toward repairs and relocations. In an issue that proved troublesome for Sterne, Hoffman initially testified he would consider evicting any tenant not named on a lease, opening the door to mass evictions. City Attorney Ariel Calonne successfully pushed hard for receivership rules that provided more expansive tenant protections. Sterne ruled that “all non-transitory occupants are presumed to be lawful tenants for purposes of relocation assistance.”
Among Pini’s trial victories, Sterne rejected Calonne’s petition that three hotels — two of which are under construction — and Pini’s own house be included in the receivership order, ruling that their underlying conditions did not pose a health-and-safety threat to occupants or the public. Stern faulted Pini for not pursuing the hotels’ construction in a timely fashion but also suggested City Hall “impeded” progress by delaying permits; she also ruled that Pini’s personal home did not need “substantial remediation” and that solutions other than a receivership should be considered.