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Noozhawk: Santa Barbara City Council Moves Forward With New Rental-Protection Ordinance

January 30, 2018
Santa Barbara, California – Published 1/30/2018
By Joshua Molina

Measure would require landlords to give tenants written lease agreements, and tenant-displacement assistance for mass evictions

Santa Barbara is moving forward with an ordinance that would provide some rental protections for tenants, although some advocates want even more changes.

The council voted 6-0 to create an ordinance that requires landlords to give tenants written lease agreements because “written rental agreements provide clarity and certainty about the contractual agreement and should be mandatory and promoted through an ordinance or resolution,” according to a city staff report.

The city also agreed to tenant-displacement and relocation assistance for mass evictions.

Under the proposal, evictions of 15 or more units would result in the landlord having to pay tenants four times the median advertised rental rate or $5,000, whichever is greater, and increase the notification requirements to 90-days in cases where more than 10 tenants are displaced.

No monetary relocation assistant would be provided for eviction with 14 units or fewer.

The specifics of the ordinance have not been hashed out, but would be created at the city’s three-member ordinance committee. The two items are part of an eight-package set of proposals worked on for months by the Tenant/Landlord Task Force.

“I am not jumping for joy,” said Tommy Thompson, executive director of the South Coast Division of the California Apartment Association. “It was a long, hard negotiation over several months.”

He said that trying to address the issue of tenant protections through an ordinance was kind of like trying to treat a broken leg with Tylenol; it’s not getting to the real root of the problem.

“Until we build more housing in Santa Barbara, none of these things are going to be resolved.” Thompson said.

Santa Barbara has shortage of rental housing, which is exacerbated when property owners evict longtime renters to build more expensive apartment or housing projects. The tenant protections are designed to help lessen the impact of a mass evictions.

Steve Golis, a partner and co-founder of Radius Group, told the council that California needs more housing, and “we need more housing in Santa Barbara.”

One of the proposals that did not win a compromise between the tenants and property owners on the task force was a “Just Cause Eviction” ordinance, which would prevent the landlord from kicking tenants out simply to raise rents.

Frank Rodriguez, a community organizer with the organization CAUSE — the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy — said that there is a housing crisis statewide, and Santa Barbara needs to do more to stop mass evictions.

He said seven mass evictions have happened recently on Santa Barbara’s Westside.

“The face of gentrification is happening on the Westside,” Rodriguez said.

Mayor Cathy Murillo agreed.

“The city needs a just-cause ordinance,” Murillo said, adding that nearly 70 percent of Santa Barbara residents are renters.

“The people who live in Santa Barbara are renters,” Murillo said. “They need more protections. This is a new council. We can take this in a new direction.”

Councilman Randy Rowse opposed the idea of a just-cause ordinance.

“We have to move carefully,” Rowse said. “We can’t move precipitously to create a new ordinance. Everytime a government entity tries to get involved in a private matter, it’s fraught with problems.”

Councilman Eric Friedman said he appreciates the concessions the landlords have already voluntarily made, and there is not need at this time to force their hand to do more.

“If we try to tweak this up here, we’re going to lose the good faith of the landlords,” Friedman said.

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