City Council Ordinance Committee members Oscar Gutierrez, Kristen Sneddon, and Mike Jordan. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file) & Daniel Dreifuss (file)

The City Council’s Ordinance Committee voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of a proposed ordinance requiring Santa Barbara city landlords to pay relocation assistance — one and a half months’ worth of rent — to tenants displaced through no fault of their own, bringing the ordinance one step closer to final approval. The language adopted came after about three hours of public testimony, evenly split between landlord representatives and tenants’ rights advocates.

The language now under consideration reflects some of the fine-print changes pushed by the landlord lobby and differs significantly from what was proposed last week by City Attorney Ariel Calonne. For example, the new language specifies that the tenant relocation assistance is to be paid per unit rather than per tenant, as had been initially suggested. Given the large number of unrelated tenants who often occupy one unit, members of the Ordinance Committee — councilmembers Oscar Gutierrez, Kristen Sneddon, and Mike Jordan — agreed with the landlords that the cost of relocating all non-related adults could be exorbitant. 

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Likewise, the Ordinance Committee dropped any extra assistance for “special needs” renters. These had been defined as adults older than 62, tenants with children, and tenants with disabilities. Councilmembers worried that such language might give landlords an incentive to discriminate against people with families.

The issue of just-cause eviction protection has been kicking around the City Council for four years now, having been pushed by CAUSE, the tenants’ rights organization. CAUSE had argued that landlords should be required to pay four months of relocation assistance per tenant, and five months for tenants with special needs. 

Both sides of the debate mobilized large numbers of supporters who spoke, some quite passionately and, on occasion, heatedly. Smaller landlords argued the additional financial burdens the ordinance would impose would push them out of business, thus giving the larger institutional property management companies — depicted as more aggressive and less responsive — more sway at setting the market norms. Many cited the financial distress they were already experiencing because of COVID-19. Tenants’ rights advocates countered that those who invest in real estate assume certain risks and that absent protection against the increased housing costs, many community members will be forced out of Santa Barbara. 

The matter was continued until October 2 at the request of Councilmember Gutierrez to allow the committee to solicit comments from Santa Barbara’s non-English-speaking landlord community.

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