Tenants address Santa Barbara City Council
Nearly a dozen Santa Barbara residents appealed Tuesday to the City Council for help with preventing evictions from the homes they’ve occupied for years or even decades.
They say their landlords want them gone just so they can bring in new tenants and raise the rent.
The residents, speaking during the council’s public comments period, contend their landlords use the excuse of having to make repairs for “safety” and “habitability” reasons, when in reality any changes they make are merely “cosmetic” in nature to justify their ouster.
The tenants said that if and when they are offered money to relocate, it’s simply not enough to cover Santa Barbara’s high rents.
“Rent evictions are far too easy,” Stanley Tzankov, co-founder of the Santa Barbara Tenants Union, told the council. “They claim they need to do renovations and evict. It’s the only way they can flip the rental unit.
“The harm to the community is incredible.”
The Santa Barbara Tenants Union is an all-volunteer, tenant-led organization dedicated to defending tenants against unjust evictions, rent increases, and negligent and abusive landlords, according to a statement on their website (sbtu.org). “Union members provide each other and other tenants education, solidarity and mutual support in the fight to make housing a human right.”
Rick Hanson told council members that he and others had leases from a prior landlord, but when their new landlord took over, he immediately evicted half the tenants.
As for the others, the new landlord only gave them new leases “if he decided they deserve it,” Mr. Hanson said.
Mr. Hanson, who said he’s lived in the same place for 25 years, claimed the landlord has tried to evict the other tenants, too. “He has yet to offer us a lease or follow the law,” he said.
He said he and his housemate, who has lived there 40 years, “have paid for the house several times over the years.
“This is absolutely a travesty,” he said, nearly in tears. “I’m upset about it.”
Kenny Chism, a Westmont College graduate, complained about Santa Barbara’s high rents, saying renters often need three roommates “just to make it work.”
“I haven’t lived anywhere else as an adult,” he said. “There’s no way to pay rent this high. I make friends, and within a year, they have to leave.”
He joined the others to protest “the shoddy excuse of mandatory renovations” to raise the rent. “I implore you to ban rent evictions and put in place policies to stop evictions,” he said.
One speaker, who said he’s lived in Santa Barbara since 1965, said fighting his eviction “has been really hard on me. I’m winning, but it doesn’t feel like I’m winning.
“Rent eviction is a farce,” he said. “It’s a ridiculously easy way for a slumlord to make cosmetic repairs and then raise the rent.
“Something has to be done. Too many citizens can’t afford to stay in Santa Barbara anymore, especially seniors.”
Another speaker noted that when she and others in her building spoke up about repairs that actually did need to be made, “we got evicted, all of us, instead of him doing something about it.”
She said the three-month relocation fee she received is not enough to pay the high rents Santa Barbara landlords are asking, and that she still has not found a place to live — even while her old place sits vacant.
“It hasn’t been easy to find a place to live under these circumstances,” she said, crying. “Everybody is hiking it up. This shouldn’t be happening. We should do more. I’m really upset and nauseous at what’s going on.”
Another speaker said he’s not been evicted yet, but expects he will be once his elderly landlord passes away and another takes over.
He stressed that if council members were to take any action, they should focus on changing the law governing “no fault” evictions that allows landlords to evict tenants if they say they “intend” to make repairs.
“The legal argument is over intent,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if they do it or not. You should remove ‘intent’ from the language and put the burden on them. It has to be tied to safety and habitability concerns.”
And then there was 9-year-old Olivia Asher, who spoke after her mother, Amber, had her turn.
As the already quiet council chambers grew even more silent, the tiny girl approached the microphone, which had to be lowered so she could address the council.
“Please stop the landlord from kicking us out of our house,” she said.
Wendy Santamaria, an organizer with the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, begged the council “to do something with the power you have.”
She said she’s been working with families, day in and day out, who are on the brink of homelessness as their landlords focus only on profit.
These people do not want to end up homeless on the street or be displaced and have to move away — if they can find some place they can afford, she said.
“I want to appeal to your heart,” she said. “These are real people, not just those in this room but hundreds of others who could not be here.”
She finished by stressing that she and others will continue to show up for future council meetings and keep telling their stories until something is done.