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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howai Jul 16, 2020 02:06 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

It's too far. Setting aside the unethical acts of not being forthcoming about whether they were going to raise rent, and using loopholes that require no proof to enact, it is some kind of unethical for the owner to not consider the dynamics of the housing situation of that of the author. I'm not talking business-wise, I'm talking humanity-wise. This isn't someone not being allowed to return a broken toaster oven because they misplaced their receipt. This is someone's home of over three decades. One has to incorporate some respect and thoughtfulness when engaging with a situation like that. Its just basic human decency.

The positive aspects of what business ownership and free-market provide generally speaking, do not go out the door when "basic human decency" begins to become a factor. It makes things better, in my opinion.

a-1594610959 Jul 12, 2020 08:29 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Lots of students at UCSB and SBCC have year leases they want to unload, now that they are no longer on campus. This has to be a renters market right now.

a-1594770840 Jul 14, 2020 04:54 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

What range of rent are you now expecting to pay? I have seen rents come down around town too. Maybe you have not kept up with the market of late. IBR - $1500-2000 maybe. What about those tiny houses by Indio Muerto? Don't overlook local mobile homes - mortgage payments can compete sometimes with local rents. House-sitting? ADU? Use your networks - many landlords don't like to advertise, but prefer to get a new tenant by word of mouth through friends so you never see them in the ads. Walk the neighborhoods you like, and just talk to people who might also know about something coming up. Talk to real estate agents who also act as rental agents for out of town property owners - they love getting a no-hassle, stable income renter and will often rent under-market to keep one. Pounding the pavement and cold calls may surprise you. The old joke even back in the 1970's was if you saw the ad, it was already rented.

sbrobert Jul 14, 2020 01:42 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Greed is on display here, too. Yes, Isla Vista is empty now. But landlords have not lowered rents at all. They are sky-high. Landlords seem to prefer to keep prices high even if it means properties go empty. The same thing happens on State Street.

cherplan Jul 12, 2020 06:59 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Robert so sorry for your situation. MOVE is a 4 - letter word isn't it? Just a note, there are 2 new apartment developments going up at Patterson and Calle Real, altho they won't be ready for at least a year. The SB Housing Authority has a 7 yr waiting list, so forget that.
Also, interest rates are at an all time low so there is still time for you to turn around and become a homeowner. As you probably know the vacancy rate here in SB County is below 1% so you might have to consider Lompoc or Buelllton. I hope that you find something in this town because you have contributed so many beautiful photographs and you are a credit to the community. You will find something. Keep your chin up. Encina Royale is a lovely senior community in Goleta near Fairview for over 55's and has some of the most reasonable condos in the region.

chico berkeley Jul 14, 2020 03:44 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

I threw the SB NP to nice older folks at Encina. I think it was called New Horizons then. It had nice grounds and a golf course(9). It was a nice place then and hopefully still because we have been thinking of downsizing lately, and that would be a nice place.

a-1594593564 Jul 12, 2020 03:39 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Even as a homeowner, "you can't take it with you" in death. It's not really your place in that sense - you're a trustee/caretaker for the next owner. But, there is a certain sense of security in knowing that if you pay your taxes and mortgage, maintain your property and insure it against loss and liability, it likely won't be taken from you. Robert, perhaps you should have considered a military career. Base housing is provided and moves are paid for.

a-1594598096 Jul 12, 2020 04:54 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Although “base houses are provided”, you also pay some rent (my father was a 30 year veteran). And after you retire, you no longer have this option.

a-1594583085 Jul 12, 2020 12:44 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Robert: Looking on Craigslist, it appears that there are many/many rentals available at less rent than they were a year ago. My guess is that many folks who rented to students and work-from-office workers are finding fewer and fewer renters. Good luck, and I'm sure you're going to find something better than you had before! Hang in there....you'll find the perfect place.

a-1594575183 Jul 12, 2020 10:33 AM
An Assault on Our Lives

The dirty secret is all school bond issues depend on ever increasing major property tax increases, not just from the allowable 2% per annum, but the huge property tax increases that come with new ownership. That is how they calculate the pay off rate for school bond issues to make them sound modest and appealing to voters - they are betting there will be many years of huge increases in property taxes due to sales and resales of low-property tax base properties. Obviously, these sale and resale property tax increases that directly benefit school budgeting, will increase rental costs as well. This is one way we are all in this together. Higher property taxes means more money going to pay off school bond issues and expanding public services.

sbdude Jul 12, 2020 10:06 AM
An Assault on Our Lives

If someone buys an apartment building or other rental property, it will be priced as if the landlord will be able to extract market-based rent from it. The new owners will have to rent out the units at that rent in order to not suffer cash-flow problems, as they are often highly leveraged.

Often, people have sweet deals with landlords who have owned properties for decades and can rent them out to longtime tenants at below market rate prices while still covering their costs and making a profit. Frequently when such properties get sold the new landlord has to raise rents to cover their now much higher costs, which of course puts serious hurt on those longtime tenants.

Robert, I know this is not really applicable in your case since your new LL sounds like he or she is just a jerk. I hope you land on your feet.

therealbebe Jul 12, 2020 06:31 AM
An Assault on Our Lives

I have been a renter for most of my adult life, so I empathize with Robert - moving sucks, particularly when you are being forced to. Had I had the opportunity at any time, I would have bought something. I've done the math and what I've paid in rent over the last 20+ years could have easily paid a mortgage. Wouldn't it have been great if I had bought a duplex, and had MY OWN renters to pay it off?! What a waste to be paying for someone else's property when one could be putting their money toward equity in something of their own. Sure, I guess it's cheaper to not own a house/condo/etc. but in exchange, THIS is the risk that all renters face. As comfortable or attached as we may be to a property, in the end, it's only temporary. Calling it an "assault on your life?" I understand your angst, but this is FAR from an assault. It's just the way that it goes. I know the two of you will find an amazing new chapter and hope that you discover a way to be positive and excited for it. Sometimes it takes upheaval to get to the good stuff. All the best.

Bene Jul 12, 2020 06:20 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

8:30 A.M. More regulation you say? There is major regulation currently, with ever more laws that are anti-landlord pro-tenant coming down the pike. It is already at the point that many "mom-and-pop" landlords are selling their rental property as it is no longer feasible for them to offer rentals. Under new "Just Cause eviction," "rent cap," " mandatory lease," "relocation payments," etc. laws, tenants in essence own the property, while landlords pay the mega bills.

a-1594586919 Jul 12, 2020 01:48 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Therealbebe - Over twenty years ago, we were looking for a duplex, so that my parents could move into the other side, should they need help in their old age. Our brilliant realtor (who came here from Mexico with 35 cents in his pocket and passed worth $Millions) said “why buy only two units, why not three or four?” We took his advice and bought four units. And, no, our tenants don’t pay all our mortgage and expenses, but they certainly help. I don’t know why more renters don’t get together and buy such properties for themselves.....

a-1594567856 Jul 12, 2020 08:30 AM
An Assault on Our Lives

Your cheery comment is absurd. What was done to them is awful. Things could be more just if people would realize that there could be better regulation. And fight for it.

a-1594536231 Jul 11, 2020 11:43 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Just like an LL can ask for references tenants should be able to as well. Check up on the LL, ask the previous tenant what their experience was like. That way bad LL's will be rooted out and no one will rent from them.

a-1594567959 Jul 12, 2020 08:32 AM
An Assault on Our Lives

How would that work in this case where a landlord is taking over a building where people already are living?

sbrobert Jul 11, 2020 09:18 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Thank you for the thoughtful and supportive comments: GNUSMAN, ALEXBLUE, HELENA, JAZZEE, ROGER, AHCHOOO, KEW, MACPUZL, SHASTA GUY, BIGUGLYSTICK, GENERALTREE, OCEANDREW.
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We are in survival mode right now and I don't have a lot of time to answer every comment, but I have read them all. A few key points and clarifications:
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1) We were not given the option to stay at a higher rent. We are being forced out. That is what is terrifying.
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2) For those of us who have lived in Europe we know this is not normal there.
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3) It is very expensive to be forced to move. Especially on short notice. This, above and beyond the cost of a higher rent at a new place.
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4) Just because something is current harsh "reality" does that mean it has to stay that way forever?
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5) Yes, there are market forces that make prices rise over time in a desirable place. But those are not the only forces. The US is the ONLY country in the world that subsidizes home ownership with the mortgage tax deduction. Renters do not get that benefit and end up paying for that subsidy. And the entire legal system is set up to protect "property rights". Renters pay for that legal system that is not their friend.
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6) There is an entire universe of regulation between outright state control and the Wild West. What we have is the Wild West.
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7) Building "equity" is not just about money paid on a mortgage. It is about a web of connections that people have in a community.
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8) As BIGUGLYSTICK noted, we were lied to at every moment by the new owners. There is no legal recourse for that.
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9) The original sweet couple died 26 years ago. Their family sold it to a landlord who indeed raised the rent over the years and treated it as a business. I can deal with that. That is different than throwing someone out who might be willing to pay an increased rent. The sign held by the woman in San Francisco at the start of the story says it well. Does anyone think that what happened to her is acceptable?
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Thank you again for those of you who offered supportive and thoughtful comments. We appreciate it very much.

a-1594596243 Jul 12, 2020 04:24 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Thank you, Robert, for additional information. I’ve met you and can tell that you are no fool and not a “poor me” type. In this tight rental market landlords should have to give much longer notice to good tenants. Best wishes to you.

ChemicalSuperFreak Jul 12, 2020 02:53 AM
An Assault on Our Lives

Sincerely best of luck to you. You have my sympathies. It's a warning to all that owning equals security.

Idesofmarch Jul 11, 2020 11:23 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

So for various reasons, including not wanting to turn your home into a profit generator, and having someone gift you a comfortable and likely cheap residence, you lived in the same place for 30+ years, knowing that you are a renter and not an owner and knowing the difference between the two, you decided to write this Op piece? Everyone who rents knows they're only renting, they're not owning. We understand the difference when we enter into the rental agreement. And now you're going to have to move to a different place and pay comparable rent (because the place where you live has consistently raised the rent, right?) and its an ASSAULT ON OUR LIVES? As far as the old lady used for extra sympathy in your original tantrum, I would hope she too, understood the difference between being a renter and being an owner, regardless of the time of residence.

banana Jul 11, 2020 02:12 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Save your money for a down payment and buy a home. It's not too late. It is housing security for you and your wife if you do not fail the mortgage payments and yearly property taxes. Your expenses will be stable for the rest of your life. Condos and mobile homes are cheaper but have monthly fees that a free standing home does not have. Learn to do your own maintenance to save money. Internet is a great teacher as are old fashioned books. A thorough house inspections (required) first, tells you if the roof or plumbing is new or needs replacing soon ( major expenses). Don't forget all these maintenance costs are built into the rent. You do not have to think that owning a home is for flipping for a profit. Home ownership is for your own security as you are discovering the hard way ( this is a horrid experience for so many renters. It's heart breaking as many are the hard working poor who have no time, money or often language skills to hunt for new housing). Inflation, as you know, happens over time. A landlord who bought an apartment building 40 years ago has low taxes ( Prop. 13) and can keep rents low if s/he wants to. Buy 40 years later at 1000 Xs that original cost and you have to raise the rents to meet expenses. The larger your down payment, the lower your monthly mortgage will be. You can be a homeowner and still be a good and just person. You can even will your home to the Housing Authority and stipulate that it be for low income housing in perpetuity. Good Luck, Robert. You will land on your feet. I'm sorry you are finding out first hand the trauma that many go through multiple times in their lifetimes.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.....

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.

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?

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