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Dario Pini Comes to Tenants’ Defense

Tenants Turn to Former Landlord for Housing Help in Pending Evictions

Angry that his tenants are being evicted, Dario Pini has filed a motion to block the receiver from proceeding. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Dario Pini’s tenants have turned to their former landlord for help. Some have called him while looking for an affordable apartment after receiving a notice to vacate from the new landlord, according to court documents. Pini lost control of seven of his apartment complexes after the city sued him over a multitude of Health & Safety Code violations. The city won; the buildings are being fixed up. But the new landlord, receiver Bill Hoffman, will be evicting 52 of the 99 sets of tenants for having too many people living in their apartment.

On Thursday morning, Pini’s attorney, Paul Burns, asked Judge Colleen Sterne for permission to hear his request to prohibit mass eviction at the next status update, which is set for August 2, and Judge Sterne agreed. According to the moving papers, Pini learned of the mass evictions from an article in the Santa Barbara Independent. Burns told reporters that Pini was angry at the treatment of his tenants and directed him to protest formally in court.

According to Burns’s motion, Hoffman should have told Pini that the mass evictions were coming. Burns agreed that extended family members in the units should not receive relocation benefits, but they shouldn’t be evicted either. “Such treatment appears inhumane and inconsistent with the manner in which Mr. Pini has treated all of his tenants, in many cases for years and even for decades,” he wrote. “Mr. Pini always tries to provide alternative housing to tenants who must vacate their units for repairs.”

Hoffman was appointed by Judge Sterne in April 2018 to oversee the repairs to the downtown apartments because Pini refused to comply with the city’s dogged pursuit of competent repairs. When asked recently about the trauma evictions would cause low-income tenants ejected into Santa Barbara’s razor-thin rental market, City Attorney Ariel Calonne replied that the city had asked for the Housing Authority to be the receiver for reasons that are now obvious. The city could not control the receiver’s every action, he said.

The issue of the receiver comes up every month in court, inevitably during Burns’s objections over his fees and actions. Judge Sterne has indicated more than once that Hoffman’s track record and accountability make him an appropriate receiver for the eight properties in the case. (The eighth is an empty hotel.)

The notice to vacate tells tenants to correct “overcrowding” (the formal eviction lawsuit would come next), but the tenants the Independent spoke to at Pini’s West Mission Street property were families: parents and their children. Burns’s motion claims children cannot be counted when calculating overcrowding. He cites the Federal Uniform Housing Code in saying “certain dwellings may be configured to allow a third person to comfortably sleep in non-bedroom space, [or living room] and that infants and very young children can share their parents’ room.” He adds that the Federal Fair Housing Act prevents discrimination on the basis of “familial status,” or that landlords must rent to families with children.

According to deputy city attorney John Doimas, the city code adheres to the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC) to determine overcrowding. The IPMC gives 70 square feet for a bedroom and 50 square feet per person per bedroom. The Housing Authority will add two people in a living room, and the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County, a group of attorneys to whom many tenants have turned, believes “two plus one” is reasonable. Legal Aid director Jennifer Smith said the number varies, per the state’s fair housing department, as there is no “hard and fast rule.” For example, she offered, “a court might view two adults and two infants in a room as reasonable if it did not cause any health and safety issues.” 

The other parties in the case have until July 25 to respond and then until July 29 to reply, Judge Sterne said this morning. The hearing on August 2 already is scheduled for a few other motions plus the usual monthly roundup. Judge Sterne said with a sigh, “That’s a lot for Friday.”

This story was corrected to state Legal Aid is a nonprofit that employs attorneys: they are not volunteers; and to clarify the state rules on numbers of tenants in an apartment.

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