An Assault on Our Lives

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(Courtesy Photo from the Santa Barbara Tenants Council)

By Robert Bernstein

Greetings to my loyal fans. I wanted to check in and explain my absence from posting.

What would you call it if someone caused you to lose your home of 31 years through no fault of your own? If that person disrupted every aspect of your life and cost you large sums of money?

That is what has just happened to my wife and me. A new owner bought the apartment four-plex that I have lived in for 31 years in Goleta. They claimed they were not going to raise the rent; they just wanted to make things nice for the people who lived here. They asked if there was anything we residents needed and we just mentioned a few small things like legal mailboxes and recycle bins that didn't fill up before they were collected.

Well, in a matter of a few weeks they tried to raise the rent quite a bit. But there is a new state rent control law, AB-1482, The Tenant Protection Act of 2019. It limits how much an owner can raise the rent on a tenant. They seemed shocked that they were limited in how they could treat the residents.

Unfortunately, there are two huge loopholes that are big enough to drive a truck through. One is that the owner can claim that renovations are planned that are so major that it will require the tenant to completely move out. The other is that the owner can claim that they are planning to make your unit their primary residence. They don't have to offer any proof. They just have to make the claim and then they can throw you out. It does not matter that it may have been your home for decades and that the owner has just bought the building.

We are in total survival mode right now. Trying to sort and pack 31 years of belongings. And trying to find a new place to live in an environment that is very different than how Goleta was in 1989. When I inherited the place from a good friend who was moving away. And when the owner was a sweet older couple who lived in one of the units.

Some have said that this is just the risk one takes as a renter. But that is not true in civilized countries where renting is normal for most people. Yes, I could have bought a place years ago. But I had no interest in the "American Dream" of home ownership. I just wanted to have a pleasant place to live and not be thinking of my housing as a profit center.

Does it seem fair that one can pay enough to have bought the building over the course of 31 years, yet someone has the "right" after a matter of weeks to take all of that away?

All of my life I have worked for social justice and for a more perfect world for everyone. I am not used to being on the receiving end of social injustice. I very much appreciate all of the kind words and offers of help from strangers and friends alike.

And I am happy to report that there is a new organization forming called the Santa Barbara Tenants Council that will be organizing on these issues. But it may be a marathon effort to achieve justice. Not soon enough for us or for at least one of my best friends who is in the same situation.

Here is their new Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/sbtenantscouncil/

I could say more, but mostly I just wanted to explain why it may be awhile before I have time to post much for my column here on Edhat.

As you may know, I have a new column this year in the Montecito Journal and I may write something there as well. Thank you again for your understanding and I look forward to being able to have the time and resources to write here again.

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letmego Jul 11, 2020 10:47 AM
An Assault on Our Lives

CHEMICALSUPERFREAK " However you calculate it, Robert would have more money right now in pocket had he not given his money to the landlord. Renting, which I've done, is always terrible for the renter." --- this is ONLY true because we are talking about 31 years. Trust me on this one. We bought our house more than 15 years ago. My calculations are that we are WAY in the hole. Add up mortgage+prop tax+home improvement costs, subtract tax benefits. If you compare that to what rent was when we bought and what it is now, we are worse off. At some point, I'm sure there's a break even point. We haven't seen it yet. The cost to rent our home monthly is STILL less than mortgage + property tax.

Gordo Jul 11, 2020 12:17 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

But don't forget the equity that you've built up in the process. At some point you will have paid off your mortgage and will be able to live in this town 'rent free'. By then the investment that you are making now in 'delayed gratification' will pay off.

a-1594495764 Jul 11, 2020 12:29 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

There is truth in that 31 years ago, one could buy a home if employed, low income, and motivated to do so. A new 1000' townhome on a small golf course in Goleta, 1/2 mile from beach and UCSB, was priced at around $200,000 with minimum down as a "low cost housing unit". These units now sell for over $600,000 but are increasingly bought by young families as an only alternative due to the cost of homes being over 1 million. Doesn't help Robert, but it may encourage those than can struggle to buy ANYTHING these days to do so rather than rent.

ChemicalSuperFreak Jul 11, 2020 03:47 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

LETMEGO: Sorry that you're way in the hole on your house. Still, if you should sell your house you will get back some of the equity built up though mortgage payments and improvements. You will walk away with some money, unlike a person who simply rents.

letmego Jul 14, 2020 02:21 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Well, if we live 30 more years (not unexpected, if COVID doesn't take us out first), then we'll have broken even. If we don't, then I guess our kids can fight over the house (assuming they are adults by then).

Bird Jul 10, 2020 03:33 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Robert, I am very sorry and wish you the very best luck in finding someplace you and your wife like! You ask, "What would you call it if someone caused you to lose your home of 31 years through no fault of your own? If that person disrupted every aspect of your life and cost you large sums of money?" I would call the situation, "housing reality", especially in desirable locations. I am not sure there are many places now in this country which provide rent stability, without having that rent move up (rarely, if ever down) with the "fair" market value. I am not sure how the new owner cost you "large sums of money," unless you're referring to the rental prices you'll have to pay for housing similar to what you've had. But, whatever, really good luck!

Luvaduck Jul 11, 2020 07:58 AM
An Assault on Our Lives

Check out housing in smallish Mid-western towns. Much, much cheaper and unless you are using the cultural offerings or the ocean, as a retiree, very pleasant and great community resources, for instance senior centers that offer both transportation and meals! (And frankly, the weather isn't bad most of the time and they aren't burning down forests.)

biguglystick Jul 11, 2020 08:53 AM
An Assault on Our Lives

I have to say, as a native Californian and a 38 year SB resident that I'm really SICK of hearing people suggest that we move to another place if we can't afford it. It's literally heartbreaking to those of us who are not wealthy and do not own homes to be evicted like this. It happened to me, and it was not only disruptive and hellish, but terrifying. My entire life was uprooted because a wealthy company bought out our sweet little cottages and kicked us all out and tripled the rent. The same thing happened to us, they promised no one would be kicked out, they asked us what we would like for improvements, they LIED. It's happening all over because too many homes are "investment properties" and not single family owned homes. I feel awful for the author and his wife. And NO, we should not suggest that long-time locals with roots, jobs, family, friends and history here in our town should move to the midwest or somewhere cheaper, we should figure out how to help those in our community who weren't so lucky to get to own a home. Not everyone got a great start in life with financial advice or the ability to make smart decisions.

Bird Jul 11, 2020 11:03 AM
An Assault on Our Lives

It's too often all very sad and difficult. But the downside of the freedom to move around this country is that there is no "right" to live in any one place. The small city ("town", in today's parlance) where I grew up, a working class type of town but with middle and upper income levels, got "discovered" and many of the working class either had to move out or discovered that their properties were worth a lot of money, relatively speaking, and chose to take the money and move. ...It has now become something it wasn't before. That could be also the story of Santa Barbara and also Goleta. Even though I was lucky enough 25 years ago to buy a small house in a then poor neighborhood, I don't think I'd choose to live here now, with the huge costs associated with buying a property now. Yes, tenants have rights but so do property owners. It's a constant grind of one against the other when there are "issues".

winter Jul 10, 2020 04:51 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

A lot of judgments here....most of my friends, grew up here...took over modest family homes, from their parents, grandparents...they did not buy there own homes.

Shasta Guy Jul 10, 2020 07:32 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

No need to scrutinize Robert, just wish him well. He’s shared so much natural beauty with us that always lifts my spirits!

SBTownie Jul 10, 2020 08:09 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

I'm sorry to hear of Robert's troubles, and I can imagine it is very painful and stressful to have to move. People do understand that when a building is sold, the costs to the new owner are NOT the same as they were to the prior owner, right? Property tax base goes up wildly. New buyer probably has to pay a mortgage (a building someone bought 31 years ago may have been purchased for a very low price and long since paid off). Landlords don't just go around trying to sabotage people's lives. Yes, there are some bad ones. I am growing very tired, though, of the idea that landlords should provide housing as a charity case. It is wildly expensive to maintain housing between taxes, mortgage interest, premiums, insurance, and so on. Robert would know that if he had ever been a property owner. I would cut off my left arm to have been able to purchase property in Santa Barbara 31 years ago. My husband and I would certainly be living much better than we are now, as costs have truly shot up.

ChemicalSuperFreak Jul 10, 2020 08:25 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Okay, here's a great time to address a few shortcomings of our education system. The primary focus of high school education should revolve around surviving in the current world. Priorities should be in personal finance, such as avoiding predatory lending with credit cards and other loans, in addition to learning to budget expenses, and then personal health, such as nutrition and hygiene.

GeneralTree Jul 10, 2020 08:49 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

CHEMICAL - really dumb comment do you have kid? My kid get that learning at home. He excels above and beyond in math and science. Why bore him? Should he not have a chance to excel? That sounds rather socialist.

Ahchooo Jul 10, 2020 09:03 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

I do think basic financial literacy should be taught in schools, because many kids have parents who are financially illiterate, so they won’t learn money sense at home. But I don’t think that pertains to Robert’s current situation, or renters in general. Homeownership is not for everybody, for many different reasons.

Luvaduck Jul 11, 2020 07:55 AM
An Assault on Our Lives

I taught mine, too, but I wouldn't say that most parents have the background I have. It wouldn't take but a semester or 2-quarter course to explain the pertinent information to the dullest high-schooler, and a workbook comparing the prices of credit card debt on a purchased item with its cost at time-of-purchase would make a lasting impression, perhaps save a world of hurt.

macpuzl Jul 10, 2020 08:36 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Apparently, to the pestilential band of con commenters that have invaded Edhat over the last couple of years, money is the sole measure of importance in life. In their view, a sense of home and community don't matter. People can just move somewhere else, since they're only interchangeable cogs in the money machine, there to be exploited.

Idesofmarch Jul 11, 2020 03:35 AM
An Assault on Our Lives

Regarding the "the pestilential band of con commenters", could it be that, instead of people believing that money is the sole measure of importance" is it possible that those commenters are instead advocating for being self sufficient and not whining for a handout when things don't go their way? Is ignoring the fact that money is a tool while relying on others to gofundyou or provide a government handout or in this case, an entitled sense of property owners owing it to residents to keep the rent below what everyone else is paying now some kind of societal aspiration?

a-1594532939 Jul 11, 2020 10:48 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Interesting how the Ayn Rand Institute, that bastion of Screw You Market Capitalism, has taken a large PPP bailout, and is using their pretzel logic to justify it. They've apparently dumped some tenets of their philosophy so that now they solely champion the Screw You parts.

a-1594586052 Jul 12, 2020 01:34 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Any Rand, that champion of not depending on the government who did just that in her last years.....

Kew Jul 10, 2020 09:27 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Robert I am so sorry that the new owners are being so unreasonable. Try to hold it together. I am sure, that with the help of Edhat readers, you will find a new home soon. I, too, am also a renter, by choice/preference. I've always thought of a housevas an endless money pit. My parents owned a lot of income property all over L.A. and I can't tell you how it ran our lives. Then, growing up in a 3-bedroom house, I swore that I would never want to own a house. It's just one big headache. Endless cleaning and upkeep (mowing , raking , dusting, plumbing, heating, ac, roofing, tenting, kitchen remodel, bath remodel, powerwashing, painting, on and on. It's just not what I value or the way that I want to spend my weekends. Thing is, today, Santa Barbara's got an inordinate number of retired seniors living ALONE in a large house (the American Nightmare) And, now, in their senior years, they have to get out there and do ALL of that upkeep on their own or pay someone they trust to do it. And, this only happens if they have the spare cash to make repairs/improvements on their limited income. I know this is true because I've heard it from many, many friends, again and again. They say, "You are so lucky that you rent! I wish I'd never owned this property!" Sending out good rental vibes to you, Robert! Hope you find something reasonable that you can call Home Sweet Home!

SBTownie Jul 11, 2020 09:32 AM
An Assault on Our Lives

It is ironic, and sad, that you so well understand what an expensive and burdensome undertaking owning property is, but you do not seem to grasp how all of those costs and that time could translate into landlords needing to raise rents. You call them "unreasonable" and then proceed to list all of the expenses and headaches that come along with maintaining housing. You seem incapable of synthesizing a coherent worldview in which those responsibilities translate into rent that increases over time. Renters who claim they do not want to own a home due to the "hassle" do understand that as part of their rent they are paying someone else to manage the hassles for them, right? Or have we lost touch with reality here entirely? It seems the latter is a pervasive mindset on EdHat, with people accusing the reasonable majority advocating for personal responsibility as being "a pestilential band of cons"ervatives, as Mac put it.

Idesofmarch Jul 11, 2020 03:30 AM
An Assault on Our Lives

"Inherited the place from a good friend" -didn't actually find the place himself. " the owner was a sweet older couple who lived in one of the units." -the rent hasn't been raised much, if at all, in 30 years. "a new owner bought the apartment four-plex, in a matter of a few weeks they tried to raise the rent quite a bit" -someone came along with the cash to buy the property, and is now looking to raise the rent to the current rental market rate. Title of commentary "AN ASSAULT ON OUR LIVES". Ok.jpeg. I don't feel sorry for the guy at all, this is not a "social injustice", this is LIFE. Though I do admire the luck he had in keeping a residence here in town far below what everyone else is paying, for that long.

VanDeLay Jul 11, 2020 08:26 AM
An Assault on Our Lives

Could not have said it better myself, thanks SantaBarbaraObserver. Robert- if our current real estate laws in CA are not to your liking, what is your solution? I'm guessing from the tone and content of your post that you would lean towards a fully state-controlled real estate market. If you take some time to study the history of countries who have attempted that type of policy, you'll find that they were extremely unsuccessful time and time again. You were born in a country with such abundant opportunity, more than any place on earth... its really too bad that you didn't take advantage of that at least to some small degree, enough so that you and your wife could've avoided this unfortunate and scary situation you are currently now facing. Please take the advice of other posters on this thread and take advantage of resources offered to seniors by the SB Housing Authority.

Ahchooo Jul 11, 2020 08:49 AM
An Assault on Our Lives

I think people are jumping to conclusions here. I suspect that if the new owners had said up front that they would be raising the rent substantially, Robert would have adapted quite well. I don’t see that he is asking for handouts. It’s just a bit jarring to be told the rent wouldn’t go up much, and then be told of a huge increase with little notice.

Alexblue Jul 11, 2020 01:04 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Vandelay--you claim the United States has more opportunity than any other place on earth.

Where' your proof?

a-1594583405 Jul 12, 2020 12:50 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

The US is the best place on earth. However, some appear to live in a bubble of indoctrination & not realize it. If they did, they would be as grateful for being here, as I am.
#USA

a-1594607858 Jul 12, 2020 07:37 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

12:50 - What a chauvinistic view. By several measures, like level of democracy, overall health, prenatal care, elder care, housing, education, infrastructure, carbon footprint, support for science, arts & culture, and general welfare and happiness, there are many countries that equal or exceed our metrics.

Roger Jul 11, 2020 09:18 AM
An Assault on Our Lives

I don't know you too well Robert but from what I have seen here and heard you are a great person who have helped many others. I wish that alone would qualify you for a better life. Many of us are in the same boat at the mercy of our landlords. The negative comments don't help but some people feel better about themselves putting others down ignore them, I hope you find something soon.

Jazzee Jul 11, 2020 10:19 AM
An Assault on Our Lives

I’m so sorry this happened to you and your wife, Robert. When you get settled again, please resume your photos and videos about the wonders of Santa Barbara and the people who live here. They bring such joy into my life.

a-1594494800 Jul 11, 2020 12:13 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Very sorry for your loss Robert. It must be life shattering to go through the loss of your apartment and the community and life you built there. Many of us in the central coast area spent much of our lives sacrificing to pay mortgages, maintain whatever home we could afford, pay ever increasing taxes, etc because we were frightened to see what could happen to us as vulnerable renters. You have confirmed our fears.

helena Jul 11, 2020 12:21 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

The pursuit of money does not equal the pursuit of happiness; we live in an area where this simple truth is often forgotten. You've been a good citizen and a wonderful contributor to our society, Robert. This should not have happened to you or to anyone else who has lived in one place for so long, duly paying their rent on time. Seems to me that the new landlord should have cherished you longtimers as opposed to evicting you--you were the proverbial bird in the hand. This is so heartless.

Alexblue Jul 11, 2020 01:07 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

I'm sure there is a world in which there's a reasonable midpoint between selfish renters who trash properties, squat, and bail owing money and selfish landlords who try and squeeze absolutely every penny out of their properties without any regard for the fact that human beings live there.

I prefer to live in the middle, personally.

gnusman Jul 11, 2020 01:26 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

What are the names of the new owners? Not for harassment, but to keep our eyes on them to determine if they do what they say they will do.
By the way, a house of your own would've been good and would be paid for by now, but I understand many people do not want that 'burden' of home ownership; I held off for years and rented. However, ownership has worked out for us, our home is now worth at least twice what we are paying for it which will stand us in good stead in our final years.

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