Rent cap, registry to be established in Santa Barbara
Nearing midnight Tuesday, the Santa Barbara City Council voted 4-3 in favor of establishing Mayor Cathy Murillo’s 11th-hour proposal to tighten rent control.
The near-split decision directs city staff to create an interim ordinance restricting rent raise above 2% plus the consumer price index, begin a rental registry and launch a study into long-term rent-control ordinances the council could pass in around a year.
Mayor Murillo and Mayor Pro Tem Oscar Gutierrez filed the tenant-protection memorandum less than two weeks after the mayor’s loss in the city election. Mr. Gutierrez told the News-Press that they both have wanted to bring forth a rent cap for years.
Statewide, landlords are restricted from raising rent beyond 5% plus inflation, per Assembly Bill 1482.
Mayor Murillo, who has one more regular meeting remaining, led the discussion Tuesday with a sense of urgency. Her impatience may come from her mere weeks left in office or conversations with renters and advocacy groups.
“I just feel like it’s so critical right now,” she said. “Renters that I’m talking to, they’re getting increases where they can’t find a place to live.”
Council members offered skepticism — not of rent control or the intentions behind it, but the lack of information presented by the duo.
Councilmember Mike Jordan said he saw a memorandum that promised information and heard a plea instead of data.
The mayor said tenant-advocacy groups sent information, buried in the approximately 1,000 emails they received.
Mayor Pro Tem Gutierrez later shared data from the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors website, showing a booming housing market. He argued the landlords’ investments are resilient.
Councilmember Eric Friedman, whose family moved to Lompoc in the ’80s for affordability, was worried about losing rental housing stock if landlords sell their properties. This concern was voiced by Santa Barbara Association of Realtors President Brian Johnson in local news articles.
Single-family homes, unless owned by a real estate trust or corporation, would be exempt from the rent cap and duplexes where the owner lives in a unit. Properties built in the last 15 years are also excluded. These terms were set by the state in AB 1482; Mayor Murillo says she wants to just lower that law’s limit.
A rent cap only restricts what a landlord can charge a tenant who is renewing a lease. Santa Barbara does not have vacancy control, a limitation on the amount a landlord can raise the rate between tenants.
Councilmember Alejandra Gutierrez hammered accountability. She said she has encountered landlords who illegally push tenants out of properties to avoid the rent cap.
She explained the “root of the problem” is a lack of accountability and tenants who are unaware of their rights.
“Some of the housing that we have now is not livable, and we constantly have complaints about property management groups that are not following through. The tenants, they don’t have the funding or the education to fight for their rights,” she said.
Ms. Gutierrez said the relocation assistance ordinance backfired.
“The rents went up, people got evicted, so we have more families living on the streets,” she said.
Ms. Gutierrez said the city needs to invest more in its rental-remediation services, saying nonprofits are overwhelmed with cases.
Concerned renters and landlords alike called to share their experiences, waiting for the agenda item for more than six hours. Public comment filled over two hours with personal anecdotes before the mayor closed the opportunity out of concern for time.
“It’s really hard to imagine a future here, and I’m saying that as someone who has built a career, a family and a life here for the last 10 years,” Christian Alonso said. “Every year and every rent increase forces me and my partner to consider whether we can continue to stay here.”
Nancy Gottlieb said she lives in one unit of a triplex and doesn’t raise rent for repeat tenants, but she worries about large expenses.
“I sort of feel like I’ve had this property now for 35 years, and all of a sudden I don’t have control over how I want to manage it,” she said.
Landlord Katie Hay is frustrated with large out-of-state acceptance rates at local colleges, leading to high demand for rentals.
“Rent caps do not increase workforce housing availability, building workforce housing increases workforce housing availability,” she said.
Mr. Jordan said there’s a “rush to paint landlords in one light” and argued housing supply is a larger issue.
“The housing shortage will have to be an effort on the part of the city to further incentivize or allow housing production,” he said.
Mayor Murillo said increased development has been a goal during her 10 years on council.
“Every time there’s a proposal to do something for tenants to increase protections, the rental property owners association and the Realtors association, they talk about ‘let’s increase housing’ — but I don’t see them showing up when there’s a project that needs support,” she said.
Mayor Pro Tem Gutierrez said he believes that even if Santa Barbara allowed skyscrapers, they wouldn’t be developed to be affordable.
Councilmembers Meagan Harmon and Kristen Sneddon voted “yes” on the proposal.
“This has reached a crisis point in our community where it’s not just anecdotal anymore about maybe we know somebody who’s been evicted, but it’s pervasive throughout,” Ms. Sneddon said.
She also said the city should raise wages so as to not lose its workers to rent increases.
Ms. Harmon suggested adopting a temporary ordinance as the city studies what a strong, long-term plan may look like.
“If we don’t move forward to develop a rent stabilization ordinance, what we’re saying is that the instability and community upheaval that is experienced as a result of significant rent increases on top of sky high prices and virtually zero availability is not a problem within the purview of this council to solve. And I simply don’t agree with that,” she said.
After the measure passed, Ms. Gutierrez questioned the enforcement of the ordinance. She said renters are currently filing police reports to have a record of landlords’ noncompliance.
“I just want to make sure that what we just voted on today is actually going to have an effect in the community,” Ms. Gutierrez said.
City Attorney Ariel Calonne said he would analyze and present enforcement options.