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:

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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Byzantium Jul 10, 2020 02:08 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Santa Barbara Housing Authority has many, many low-income housing units for seniors in this town. Give them a call. Get on the waiting list. Subsidized senior housing is known for its higher turn-over. Much faster movement up the waiting list for subsidized senior housing in this town. SBHA has made living easy in this town for qualifying seniors - huge inventory and multiple options. Everyone needs to take a lot at the SBHA website to learn what we are already doing for our aging in place residents.

Gordo Jul 11, 2020 07:34 AM
An Assault on Our Lives

So now we are supposed to pay for him to live here when it was his own choice to not invest in his future? There are many places to live that he can afford. SB apparently isn't one of them.

winter Jul 10, 2020 01:56 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Please don't bash him...I am a renter...have owned over 6 homes, in my lifetime.
Bought here, in Santa Barbara, top of the 2006.
Got cancer...went into for closure...
Was mortified....
Have been a good tenant...6 years, now 2 is hard being a renter...been lucky to communicate, pay on time.
But the neighbors, all know you are renters.

Humanitarian2003 Jul 10, 2020 01:54 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

After 35 years of occupying an office in downtown Santa Barbara, as well as making $300,000 worth of improvements at my own expense, a wealthy investor owning more than sixty downtown properties bought the building and raised rents from $2/s.f. to $8.60/s.f., essentially evicting everyone. I had two months to find another site. You don't have to look far to see this happening here at home as well.

SBTownie Jul 10, 2020 08:24 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Thanks for sharing. The difference seems to be that our housing stock has just about as low a vacancy rate as is possible, even despite high rents. Our retail and commercial on the other hand has very high vacancy rates. So clearly the price gouging on commercial rents is not working out well. The market will bear the cost of housing, on the other hand.

chico berkeley Jul 10, 2020 01:31 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Robert,I'm sure a lot of folks here can relate to your plight.I hope you don't have to leave.You get to go and take pics with people in places that were me and my buddies extra large playground in the mountains and backcountry and you have been my connection for that now that I can't go anymore myself.Hope you can find a place in the area and continue exploring.

chico berkeley Jul 11, 2020 10:00 AM
An Assault on Our Lives

Thanks Bigugly-I find once you piss some people off on edhat they have a tendency to down vote anything commented on ,good or bad.The weather is pretty nice so snow flakes melt fairly easy. Iv'e said it here before, downvotes are a badge of honor,so keep em' coming.

biguglystick Jul 11, 2020 09:20 AM
An Assault on Our Lives

Chico, I don't understand how anyone could downvote your comment. Just goes to show you the greedy money worshipping soulless trolls on this thread. I wish Robert the best too.

Simpleton Jul 10, 2020 01:28 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Robert, you admit that you could have bought a home, but made a conscious decision to not buy a home. You can now freely move to another rental as other adults do. You lost me when you called the choices you've made for 31 years an "injustice". We all have to grow up sometime.

biguglystick Jul 11, 2020 09:14 AM
An Assault on Our Lives

Isn't it nice how so many people here are condemning Robert for not buying when he 'could have'. I tried very hard to buy something here, even a condo or a mobile home, for years, and I never could get my foot in the door for one reason or another. Once it was down to $1,000. A measly $1,000 was all I needed to qualify, but I couldn't raise it and I was passed up, even with excellent credit and a wonderful job. Other times, other buyers swooped in and offered more. Then after the 80's things just shot right out of the stratosphere and I couldn't even dream of qualifying for a home. Now it is just unattainable for a single middle-aged person alone to buy unless you have liquid wealth. It's a damned shame. I'm a local and a native. All these priviliged people commenting about how you "have to grow up sometime" or "you could have bought but you chose not to", well, walk a mile in another's shoes before you point your finger. I would have given anything to buy a home here, and I TRIED, desperately. It's an awful situation for many people, and not because they didn't try really hard.

Minibeast Jul 10, 2020 02:15 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Yes. Robert is now, through his own admission, living "The American Dream" of being a renter. It's a risk you take, when you could've bought a home and didn't. My Mother always used to say "What good is a shoebox full of rent receipts?" I've had friends in Santa Barbara buy brand new cars, have that extra kid, take very expensive vacations . . . Then, because they "chose to rent" instead of buy, well-----I told you so. Not that being a homeowner/landlord is without its pitfalls. As my one friend said, "Renters . . . UGH." (I have one now who owes me $4,000. Just lucky to get that deadbeat out when I did in mid-April----**Thank you, Covid-19**.)

a-1594411724 Jul 10, 2020 01:08 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

The whole reason we bought a house 19 years ago is that the fixed rate mortgage payment was inflation protected and that we’d have control of our destiny.

bigman Jul 10, 2020 12:57 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

I can't believe the comments on here [some]. My family were LL's for YEARS in New York [Queens]. We had a tenant who lived there forever, basically until the property was sold. They NEVER raised his rent. He was a great tenant, kept the place up and even did his own repairs. It was a great relationship. I could just as easily say if you can't afford your property without a renter then don't buy it. It cuts both ways. So yes people can do what they like in our capitalist society - charge their high rents, do what they want with the property, all of that, but at what cost? Greed versus humanity. This is what our society is now, hence all the problems we are seeing. Lack of humanity. Entitlement. The rules only apply to me [I can buy a property I can't afford without renters], but not to you [too bad for you that you didn't buy property]. Total lack of soul.

SBLIFE Jul 10, 2020 01:20 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Having long-term tenants with reasonable rent rates does not make you a good person, just like purchasing a property and declining to renew the existing tenants' lease does not make you a bad person.

mp805 Jul 10, 2020 12:42 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

Sorry to hear about your situation Robert, Is it possible to give a few more details if you feel comfortable... How many bed/baths is your unit, what was the rent and how much was the increase?

yacht rocked Jul 10, 2020 12:17 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

I'm sorry for your situation. But yeah, this is the risk you take as a renter, as balanced by the risk others take in lashing themselves to home ownership with a 30-year mortgage. Not many renters have a 31-year rental run.

Gordo Jul 10, 2020 11:49 AM
An Assault on Our Lives

There are many reasons that the "American Dream" is of home ownership. You've just learned on of the big ones. You somehow feel that you have a right to live on that property simply because you have for so long. The world doesn't work that way (nor should it). If you are a good tenant you have the right to negotiate with the owner a price for your continued use that you are mutually agreed to. Nothing more. If you are not a good tenant the owner can/will do what he can to discourage you from staying.

a-1594439427 Jul 10, 2020 08:50 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

There are a lot of bad tenants out there as most landlords have discovered. When you find a good one you truly want to encourage them to stay.

SBLIFE Jul 10, 2020 01:15 PM
An Assault on Our Lives

*but even if you are a good tenant, that may not be enough for the owner to want to work with you. Just because an owner won't work with you, doesn't mean you are a bad tenant.

DBD Jul 10, 2020 11:48 AM
An Assault on Our Lives

Sorry to hear of your situation. If your rental is below market, the owners have less money in their pocket, so you can have more money in yours. Fairness depends on perspective. If you look at CAP rates locally, I doubt they are making tons of money on this new investment either. Ownership is risky too.

Lucky 777 Jul 10, 2020 11:33 AM
An Assault on Our Lives

As you said : "But I had no interest in the "American Dream" of home ownership." So you made your choice.


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