Ordinance amendments approved Thursday at a special Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors meeting will afford residential tenants some protection from being evicted so landlords can renovate their properties.
The urgency ordinance required a four-fifths vote to pass and was approved 4-0-1, with 4th District Supervisor Bob Nelson absent after having to leave the meeting for a prior commitment.
Earlier in the hearing, however, Nelson indicated he would have trouble voting in favor of the ordinance because it had no sunset date and he wanted to have a public meeting to hear from stakeholders and economists about potential unintended consequences posed by the new regulations.
“I’m not prepared today to adopt something indefinite,” Nelson said.
County code already provides some tenant protections, including provisions that landlords evicting tenants for just cause must provide three months of rent or $7,000, whichever is greater.
New provisions of the ordinance approved Thursday will require landlords terminating tenancies for renovations to obtain all necessary permits prior to serving tenants with written notice.
Copies of the permits will have to be provided with the notice, which should state the reason for the eviction, the type and scope of work to be performed and why the work requires the tenant to vacate the property for at least 30 days.
The ordinance provides remedies to unlawful detainer actions. If a landlord fails to comply with ordinance provisions, that becomes a defense against unlawful detainers, and tenants may seek injunctive relief.
The urgency ordinance, developed in a couple of days by the staffs of 2nd District Supervisor Laura Capps and 1st District Supervisor and Board Chair Das Williams with county counsel’s office assistance, grew out of pleas for help from tenants of an Isla Vista apartment complex.
Residents of CBC & The Sweep told supervisors at their March 21 and April 4 meetings that residents of 264 units, some who had lived there more than 10 years, were told March 16 they were being evicted because the owners intended to renovate the complex.
Renters facing eviction became emotional as they urged the board to adopt the urgency ordinance Thursday during public comment that saw more than 40 speakers.
They told the board many are low-income families that not only can’t find places to rent but, with the current cost of housing, many do not make enough to qualify as tenants, and one said he would have to come up with more than $8,000 to move into a new apartment.
Representatives of community service organizations also urged the board to adopt the ordinance, and the proposed ordinance was modified during the hearing with language suggested by the Legal Aid Foundation.
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A few who represented the real estate and development community cautioned the board some of the provisions would harm landlords who owned four or fewer units.
Supervisors noted the ordinance was designed to help not only tenants of CBC & The Sweep but all tenants who might face similar situations in the future.
Capps summed up the situation and the goal of the ordinance.
“This is about more than just one housing complex,” Capps said. “This is about the rents here in Santa Barbara that we know are the highest across the country for … small cities.
“This is about probably 800 people, not just a few,” she continued. “This is about multigenerational families living at the Sweeps, at CBC, raising their children … . This is about hardworking people, students who just because of the system rarely catch a fair break.
“This is about the fact that rents have more than doubled in the past two decades, far surpassing incomes,” Capps said. “This is about an out-of-state and out-of-touch landlord who fails to understand the community, even, just as an example, failing to provide these notices in any languages other than English.”
Capps added, “We are today doing everything we can to be as bold and proactive as we can not just about these tenants but about all tenants in Santa Barbara County. This is about who we are as a community.”
Williams, who co-sponsored the ordinance with Capps, pledged to protect tenants.
“I did strongly empathize with one of the statements saying that sometimes what we can act in is to be a speed bump in the path of corporate greed,” Williams said. “If I am reduced to being a speed bump in the path of corporate greed, then I am going to be the most inconvenient, spikey, rough, broken, totopo-like, tire-damaging speed bump that I can be,” Williams said.
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said the county got into this “code red” situation because it has failed to build enough housing, but he said the ordinance was a strong step toward protecting tenants.
“We’re talking about superceding state law that’s from the most progressive legislature in the country,” Lavagnino said. “So these are bold steps.”
The ordinance became effective immediately after it was adopted.