By Brian Johnson
2021 President
Santa Barbara Association of Realtors

It was May of 2009 and the Jesusita Fire was quickly spreading through the hills above San Roque and threatening to cross Foothill Road in several areas, potentially turning catastrophic. We raced to evacuate the area and headed to Los Angeles to stay with friends. In what felt like a sign of sympathy to our situation, the Grateful Dead played “Fire on the Mountain” at their May 9 show at the Forum. That fire ended up burning almost 9,000 acres and destroyed or damaged 80+ homes. It does not even come close to the impact from the Thomas Fire or other historic fires but it was the first one that caused us to evacuate so it will always stand out in my mind.   

Summer is almost here and that means fire season is here as well. New laws are going into effect this summer that will affect homes sold in the high or very high fire severity zones. A good bit of Santa Barbara falls into those zones and that means that homes being sold will have to provide documentation that they are in compliance with maintaining a defensible space or “buffer zone” between the home and flammable materials such as grass, trees or wildland areas around the property.

There are a few ways to comply with this law. There will be some areas without a local ordinance requiring an owner to obtain documentation of compliance with the defensible space laws. In this case, the buyer must agree to obtain documentation of compliance within one year after closing escrow. Alternatively, if the seller has obtained documentation of compliance within 6 months prior to entering into contract, the seller must provide that documentation to the buyer and provide information on the local agency from which a copy of that documentation may be obtained.

For areas that have a local ordinance requiring an owner to obtain documentation that the property complies with defensible space laws then one of two things can happen. The buyer can agree to comply with the requirements of the local ordinance, if the ordinance allows the buyer to do so. Alternatively, the seller shall provide the buyer with a copy of the documentation that complies with the requirements of that local ordinance and information on the local agency from which a copy of that documentation may be obtained.

It is critical to remember these requirements when purchasing your home. Discuss the requirements with your agent and your insurance carrier. Vigilance is a small price to pay to live among such beauty.

Brian Johnson is a California licensed real estate agent and the Managing Director of Radius Commercial Real Estate. Brian handles all types of commercial real estate transactions but has a special focus on multifamily investments. He can be reached at 805-879-9631 or


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