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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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.

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.


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