It was not exactly the case of Michael Jordan — the Santa Barbara City Councilmember — versus Jim Knell — one of the biggest commercial real estate operators in all of Santa Barbara — but it kind of felt that way. Knell, who runs SIMA management company, threatened to sue City Hall if the council extended its eviction moratorium past its current expiration date of May 31.
The council initially passed the ordinance in March to protect residential and commercial tenants from being evicted if they failed to pay their rent because of COVID. The council took steps last week to extend that protection if Governor Gavin Newsom signs further emergency legislation enabling local governments to do so.
“This is not something that’s going to go away,” said Knell. “We’re not going to stand by and let our rights be taken.” Knell submitted a legal warning arguing that the ordinance unfairly places the economic burden on commercial landlords,which was an unconstitutional taking by the government. It also argued that the rationale for the eviction protection — to keep people in their homes in compliance with the governor’s emergency shelter-in-place order — no longer applies. The county’s new COVID infection numbers have dropped significantly — so long as the cases from the Lompoc penitentiary are not counted — and the City of Santa Barbara is already preparing emergency actions to reopen business.
Knell had testified previously that the eviction protection for commercial tenants was not needed because most landlords had worked out deals with most of their tenants. In that case, Jordan said, the measure would serve “as protection for the remaining outliers.” Jordan later described an instance of a prominent gift shop merchant on the 900 block of State who just went out of business after being refused any relief from the $10,000 monthly rent.
“The landlord just flat-out refused,” Jordan said. “These things exist out there. We’re not just making this up.”
Under the ordinance adopted unanimously by the council, landlords are not allowed to evict tenants for failure to pay rent in the months of April and May. In return, tenants are required to notify their landlords in advance and explain their situation. They are also required to pay the landlord back, over a period of no more than 12 months in monthly installments.
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