The cat-and-mouse game landlord Dario Pini has been playing with city inspectors for decades — doing work on his many properties and often dodging permits — seems to be now played with his court-appointed receiver. William Hoffman was assigned by Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Colleen Sterne in April 2018 to take control of seven of Pini’s rental properties and one hotel to bring them up to code. Hoffman’s receivership reports for June contain an accounting of the rents received and expenses paid, and also 211 pages of violations — 1,950 in all, of which about 100 have been “cured.” The violations range from bedbugs and cockroaches to broken windows and new interior walls.
Hoffman’s task has been to find a contractor or contractors to fix the rest, a process described by the judge as having “hiccups” along the way, such as 600 violations the city forgot to tell Hoffman about, having to replace all the keys, and city inspectors missing the contractors bidding tours. One milestone passed is that the tours were made; bids are due August 6.
Hoffman’s company, Trigild, is also acting as property manager, which Pini and his attorney Paul Burns have taken great exception to, claiming Hoffman charges 400 percent the going rate. Hoffman is billing $500 per “door” for the apartments and hotel under his receivership, a charge that contains the receiver’s duties, as well as the management of assets, property, and construction, or roughly $60,000 per month. Burns insists any reputable Santa Barbara property manager would charge 5 percent of rents, or about $9,000 per month total.
Pini had yet to pay any of the receiver’s bills as of the court hearing on July 27, according to Hoffman’s attorney Fernando Landa. Judge Sterne had allowed Landa to be hired at an Ex Parte hearing on July 18 after Hoffman declared he needed protection from Pini’s attorney’s harassment, intimidation, and “barrage” of communications so he could do his work. Burns denied he’d done any of that, stating six emails was hardly a barrage. Sterne limited Landa’s participation to the preparation of pleadings and stated he was not to “run interference” for Hoffman.
At last Friday’s hearing, Sterne formally noted her disappointment in the receiver’s lack of progress on repairs. Attorneys for the lenders jumped in to agree, one asking the judge to require Pini to pay $50,000 per property to kick-start repairs. Attorney Thomas Van — representing property lenders Wells Fargo and Colony American Finance, whose attorneys, Hershorin & Henry of Orange County, are usually among the half dozen who phone into court — said the court should “un-handcuff” the receiver and fix life, health, and safety issues now, and “ask forgiveness rather than permission” regarding permits. Judge Sterne heard him out, then made it clear she would not allow a $50,000 “slush fund” without transparent bidding on the work.
Assistant City Attorney John Doimas protested he “didn’t know where this was coming from,” referring to the lenders’ complaints. He later told The Independent that all the lenders had received an email that outlined the city’s willingness to issue emergency permits for health and safety repairs, like electrical issues or broken windows. For the work that did not need permits, the receiver now had the go-ahead.
As for Pini’s home on Mission Ridge and his hotel at Cabrillo and State, all sides had agreed to retired judge Elinor Reiner as the referee on those repairs. Fixing those violations, which Pini is responsible for, is under an October 31 deadline.
At one point during Friday’s hearing, the judge indicated to attorney Burns that he couldn’t have it both ways. Burns had repeatedly expressed how much he preferred working with Hoffman’s attorney Landa while stating Hoffman’s billing was too high. Sterne pointed out the attorney’s hourly rate was higher than Hoffman’s. She ordered Pini to pay Hoffman’s bills and added that no one should assume she was happy with the amounts. The judge then diagrammed the steps to challenge them at the next hearing on August 22. Until then, she stressed, it was the receiver who was “driving the bus” on property repairs and that she wanted to see more progress.