Landlord Dario Pini, who has been a thorn in the side of local building inspectors for decades, has been slammed with a civil lawsuit from the City of Santa Barbara alleging that many of his properties are “public nuisances” that threaten the community’s safety.
Court documents were filed last week detailing numerous alleged violations at Pini’s rental properties, including people packing into living spaces such as kitchens, balconies and even into a crawl space under a house to sleep; “infestations” of roaches, human feces and urine; and even documented areas being used for prostitution.
Some of the more bizarre incidents documented included a large beehive found in the attic of one property, where residents reported finding bees in their rooms.
A fire investigator and two city building officials conducted inspections of just 20 of Pini’s properties in the city over a span of three days in July, documenting the violations.
Pini and the city have been locked in a cat-and-mouse game for decades, with detractors calling on officials to do more to regulate his properties, which they say are poorly managed, filled with code violations and packed with too many residents.
Calls for comment to Pini’s office at 329 E. Carrillo St. were not returned Wednesday.
City Attorney Steve Wiley, listed as one of the filers of the lawsuit, did not respond to Noozhawk’s request for comment Wednesday. He has said before that the city will not comment on pending litigation, including Pini’s case.
Court records state that Pini owns more than 100 residential rental and hotel properties within city limits, “which creates a significant impact to the safety and welfare of this community,” according to the lawsuit.
The suit lists Pini as a defendant, as well as Deanna Pini, two of Pini’s limited liability companies in California — Alamar II and D.L.P. Properties — as well as Airport Inn of Las Vegas Inc., a Nevada corporation. The properties listed in the suit were filed under those names.
“Official city records indicate that hundreds of city administrative code enforcement actions have been opened as a result of municipal code violations occurring at Pini’s real properties over the last three decades,” the document states.
Last week’s lawsuit wasn’t the first time Pini has been under scrutiny from the city.
In 1994, Santa Barbara police detectives and building officials conducted a sweeping investigation, the end result of which documented 750 building and fire code violations among Pini’s properties.
Police have said that after Pini has purchased various properties, an exponential amount of crimes across the spectrum — from murder to drug possession — were traced back to residents with those addresses.
The City Attorney’s Office filed a complaint against Pini for those violations, and when a Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge let him choose between jail time and staying in one of his own rentals, the landlord chose time behind bars.
This latest approach from the city seems to be moving in a different direction, one aimed more squarely at Pini’s pocketbook. The city is charging Pini $250 a day until the problems are fixed.
According to the lawsuit, if he doesn’t immediately fix the conditions of the properties, the city is asking that the court appoint a receiver to temporarily operate and maintain the properties until the problems are taken care of.
See below for a map of all the properties Santa Barbara police inspected over the summer.
View Dario Pini Properties Inspected By City in a larger map
Noozhawk first learned of the investigation last summer, and spoke with several neighbors of one of the Westside properties under scrutiny as the lawsuit was being prepared.
According to records, Pini purchased the property at 1911 Chino St. in the fall of 2011, intending to subdivide it. Soon after, however, neighbors say bizarre activity began to occur on the property, which started to appear more like a dump site instead of a construction project.
Neighbors Diane and Johan Delsol recalled waking up one day to find a seven-foot high pile of matching hotel-style curtains on the curb. The next day, the curtains were gone and 50 matching tables were on the property, in addition to all the construction debris piling up at the site.
While coping with an eyesore, the Delsols and other neighbors began to worry about many of the neighborhood’s young children wandering onto the property.
“Some kid could walk back there and you might never see them again,” Diane Delsol said.
The Delsols as well as neighbor Evelyn Lee eventually got people from 30 different households in the neighborhood to sign on to a petition that they presented to the City Council and other officials.
They began talking to city building staff, including inspection supervisor Larry Cassidy, who eventually agreed to come to a neighborhood meeting held at Lee’s home. About 50 people, including Councilwoman Cathy Murillo, a Westside resident, packed into Lee’s living room to hear from Cassidy as well as from Westside police beat coordinator Jon Reyes and Sgt. Riley Harwood.
Even the relatively itinerant college students occupying an apartment building adjacent to Pini’s property came out to express their frustration.
The neighbors began to hear from some of the construction workers that Pini intended to use the 800-square-foot home to house men on parole, with four to a room.
The neighbors said they were not able to confirm that, but expressed concerns about how the property would be managed, as a child-care center is next door and Harding University Partnership School is close by.
Diane Delsol recalls seeing Pini on the property in the middle of the night, moving items around. At other times after dark, she said she would see men climbing in and out of windows at the home.
“Everybody has a right to feel safe in their neighborhood,” she said, adding that the Westside has become safer for people to walk at night because of the work of those who live there. “We want to preserve this.”
Below is a list of properties identified in the lawsuit as having violations:
» At 1105 E. Gutierrez St., a single-family dwelling with a detached garage, inspectors found a crawl space under the house that contained two illegal dwelling units, and an illegal unit located in the garage. The living room was being occupied as a bedroom by a tenant, and individuals were also living in a recreational vehicle parked in the driveway.
» At 1510 Garden St., a 15-unit apartment building, inspectors found excessive trash, graffiti and broken lights throughout the complex, and the second-floor deck of one apartment had deteriorated, posing “a significant danger.” Many of the units had broken heaters, which prompted residents to contact the city to complain that they were without heat, and there was an “infestation of cockroaches throughout the building,” the complaint states.
» At 313 and 315 W. Arrellaga St., a 17-unit apartment complex, inspectors said many of the balconies in the apartment units are being used as residences and rented out to tenants, and interior partition walls have been constructed, creating unpermitted rooms for sleeping. Vans parked in the parking lot are being used for prostitution, the complaint states. Water leaks were seen around the foundation of the building, along with “a major presence of trash construction materials, graffiti throughout the complex.”
» At 626 West Cota St., a four-unit apartment building, inspectors documented “a continuous presence and odor of human feces and urine” at the back of the complex, and a proliferation of trash, debris and graffiti all around.
» At 329 E. Carrillo, a 15-unit apartment building, inspectors found a large beehive in the attic, with bees entering the apartments below. They also located a refrigerator being stored in a hallway, “which can pose a great danger to small children,” a large hole in the wall because of a missing vent, water buildup inside the apartment building due to other vents missing in the laundry room, and trash being stored in the laundry room and on top of garages.
» At 1109 E. Gutierrez, a single-family dwelling, a pop-up tent trailer was being used as a residence in the backyard, a kitchen was being rented out and used as a bedroom, the property’s plumbing was leaking, and there were no smoke detectors.
» At 1818 Bath St., a hotel, the complaint documents an unprotected deck area with a fall hazard not cordoned off, junk scattered throughout the property, the hotel building itself starting to decay because of rotting beams and wood, and rooms missing fire alarms.
» At 730 Bath St., a two-story family dwelling is overcrowded because many rooms — among them the living and dining rooms — have been illegally converted and maintained as bedrooms by the tenants, inspectors said. Setbacks, front and side yards were also full of recycling, furniture and trash.
» At 1435 Bath St., a four-unit apartment building, trash, including flammable paints and urethanes, were scattered around the apartment building, and a laundry facility is illegally located in the building’s entryway, inspectors said.
» At 204 Cottage Grove Ave., a four-bedroom single-family dwelling, beds were placed in the living room and were being rented out to tenants; wires were hanging from the center of a room where tenants sleep; trash was being stored in a rear yard and setbacks; and the front fence was “in extreme disrepair presenting a hazard,” the complaint said.
» At 318 W. Valerio St., an apartment building, inspectors noted an overall rundown condition, and excessive amount of construction equipment, inoperable vehicles, debris and graffiti, and a second floor that “lacks proper support and is failing.”
» At 218, 220 and 222 Cottage Grove Ave., tenants were seen living in a storage area, trash was strewn throughout, and there were no working smoke detectors.
» At 522, 526 and 530 E. Canon Perdido, the property was littered with debris and several dilapidated sheds presented a hazard.
» At 1111 E. Gutierrez St., a one-bedroom unit, inspectors documented it had been illegally converted into a three-bedroom unit, front windows were broken, a tarp was being used as a roof on the rear porch, there were holes in dry-wall, doors were broken and trash was littered throughout.
» At 630 W. Cota St., a four-unit apartment building, inspectors documented trash and graffiti all around
» At 628. W. Cota St., a six-unit apartment building, inspectors found trash and graffiti all around, a hot water heater in “total disrepair and not installed to code,” and downspouts missing or in disrepair.
» At 912 E. Mason St., a single-family dwelling unit, junk was stored in front and back yards, along with an inoperable vehicle in the side yard setback, no smoke detectors and a broken window.
» At 26 Chapala St., an 11-unit building, they found incomplete electrical work, exposed wiring, a setback accumulation of trash, furniture, and construction materials, and under-stair storage areas filled with flammable containers and fences dilapidated.
» At 623 Wentworth Ave., a living room was being used as a bedroom, trash and junk were in a side yard, and inoperable vehicle were being stored.
» At 1106 Del Mar Ave., a single-family dwelling, the lot was overflowing with large amounts of trash, and a dilapidated fence, which constituted a “safety hazard.”