Tenants Evicted Without Just Cause Now Entitled to Moving Costs

Council Votes on New Ordinance That Makes Landlords Pay Two Months of Rent in Relocation Assistance

(Top L-R) SIMA Corporation’s Jim Knell and City Attorney Ariel Calonne, (Bottom L-R) Santa Barbara City Councilmembers Kristen Sneddon and Meagan Harmon

It was both a compromise and a win for tenant protection advocates Tuesday as the Santa Barbara City Council voted to create an ordinance that mandates property owners pay their tenants relocation costs equal to two months of rent should they evict them without just cause. (Special-needs tenants, including those with disabilities, seniors, and emancipated minors, will be entitled to three months of assistance.) While the local ordinance provides more security than the single month offered by a new state law, it fell short of the four months (plus another for special needs) pushed for by activists and supporters of Santa Barbara’s renters. 

Landlords will still be within their right to evict tenants who don’t pay rent, damage their property, or cause other nuisances, explained City Attorney Ariel Calonne. But other reasons for kicking out renters, including for a remodel or an intent to take the unit off the market, will trigger the ordinance. There are numerous property type exemptions, Calonne went on, such as for duplexes, single-family homes, and ADUs (accessory dwelling units). “Many of the so-called mom-and-pops would not be covered by this ordinance,” he said. According to a study of Santa Barbara’s rental prices, relocation assistance payments ― given per unit, not per tenant ― will likely range between $2,300 and $8,500.

A number of property owners urged the council to reconsider the new rule, arguing state law is strict and complicated enough. They also said it was unfair to further burden landlords during the pandemic, when many are already facing intense financial pressure. “Do not put those who provide housing out of business,” said attorney Terry Bartlett. “Enough is enough,” said SIMA Corporation’s Jim Knell. “How many ordinances and protections and laws do you want to create?”

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However, many more renters spoke up to reinforce the ever-present challenges faced by tenants living in an expensive city with limited housing stock. Kindergarten teacher Tiela Black-Law said she pays 50 percent of her income on rent for a modest living space that is still considered a “steal” by Santa Barbara’s standards. If she were forced to move, she said, in arguing for as much protection as the council was willing to give, it would take her much longer than a month or two to find something similar.

In casting her vote, Councilmember Kristen Sneddon emphasized relocation assistance is meant to help working families and individuals, who may invest in a new home, start a job, and enroll their children in school but then find themselves evicted through no fault of their own. “This isn’t a gift,” she said. “It isn’t a subsidy.” The added layer of security will help keep existing residents local, agreed Councilmember Meagan Harmon. “This works to strengthen the fabric of neighborhoods and increases community stability,” she said. “We can’t underestimate that right now.”

The vote was 6-1, with Mayor Cathy Murillo the sole dissenter. She said she wanted the council to go further. “I actually believe it should be four months, plus one for special needs,” she said. “Standing on principle, with all due respect to my colleagues.”

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