Displaced tenants rally at the County Admin building. | Credit: Chelsea Lancaster/El Centro SB

The renoviction of about 1,000 tenants living at CBC & the Sweeps in Isla Vista had their county supervisor, Laura Capps, calling it a Code Red at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday over the “exploitation from out-of-state companies in the biggest mass eviction in California.” By the end of a long day, Chair Das Williams announced that a meeting to discuss new just cause eviction ordinance language would be held on an urgency basis on Thursday, April 6. The hearing takes place at 9 a.m.

Some dozen people from the Sweeps asked the supervisors for help at Tuesday’s public comment session, and several activists spoke of “corporate greed.” The tenants, speaking in English and in Spanish, asked if the evictions were a form of discrimination because they were Mexican; others recited how much rents had gone up and worried for Section 8 tenants, people with disabilities, the elderly, and families with children who now had to look for housing.

A group of tenants were considering living in their cars, and one young woman, who described herself as psychologically disabled, said the fear caused by being evicted was giving her nightmares, triggering her PTSD, and making it hard to eat and even think. One student said she’d been homeless as a child and never imagined in a million years that she’d be facing homelessness again: “We are human beings,” she said, “not a dollar sign.”

The company that bought CBC & the Sweeps, Chicago-based developer Core Spaces, is taking advantage of a loophole in California’s 2019 Tenant Protection Act. The act allowed evictions only if renovations were “substantial” enough to require permits. The word began cropping up soon after in 60-day notices in the Bay Area, KQED reported on April 3.

The practice is something of a worldwide phenomenon. Blackstone, which the Guardian called “the largest commercial landlord in history,” filed so many evictions for renovations, followed by rent rises, that Denmark’s Parliament passed “the Blackstone Law.” The 2020 law put a five-year moratorium on rent increases for new landlords and also prevented new landlords from paying tenants to move out.

Leah Simon-Weisberg with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment Institute said a California law was in process to address the loophole. Senate Bill 567 by State Senator María Elena Durazo of Los Angeles would be the first just cause eviction law to require a landlord to allow a tenant to return to the renovated apartment at the same rent. It also reduces California’s rent cap from 10 percent to 5 percent.

Simon-Weisberg also noted that a number of jurisdictions like San Francisco have laws on the books that address all stages of eviction — from 60-day notice, to unlawful detainer, to sheriff’s deputies’ knock on the door. “These laws usually are written because of a crisis,” Simon-Weisberg said, and can include evictions that haven’t yet reached a court judgment.

“Residential tenants in California cannot be legally evicted without a court order,” said Jennifer Smith, who leads the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County, which offers free legal help, much of which involves landlord-tenant law. “Unlawful detainer cases do not begin until notices expire and a landlord goes to court. Even when there is a pending lawsuit, courts may apply new laws to a pending action, depending on the circumstances,” she said.

Whether Santa Barbara County is able to write such a law should form part of the discussion on Thursday morning.

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