Loud music, raucous drinking and overwhelming numbers of cars on a quiet residential street are some of the complaints against the most-hated house in Goleta — the vacation rental at 830 Serenidad Place.
It’s a four-bedroom house shielded by high hedges that do nothing to protect neighbors from noise and other issues caused by the large groups staying there.
Sheriff’s deputies have responded to the property 29 times since October 2012 for noise complaints and other disturbing the peace issues, according to Lt. Butch Arnoldi. From those calls, there were three criminal citations issued.
Building a case with existing codes is not an easy effort, said Vyto Adomaitis, director of the city's Neighborhood Services and Public Safety Department.
The Goleta City Council is almost as frustrated as the neighbors and suggested one last effort at mediation with the owner, Robert Bullemer, neighbors and city staff. Council members also asked staff to look into municipal code changes to give it “teeth” for future enforcement. They even want to research condemning the property, which would allow the city to buy it and then sell it to a “more responsible property owner,” as Mayor Michael Bennett put it.
Bullemer said he was willing to cooperate with neighbors, but Bennett pointed to the fact that this is his first appearance at a meeting about his troublesome rental property.
After 12 neighbors practically begged for help during public comment, saying he was unresponsive, Bennett berated Bullemer from the dais.
“We have put in literally hundreds of hours of staff time, dozens of hours of law enforcement time, all because of you — no one else in this community but you — on this issue,” Bennett said. “I never would have thought about condemnation, but if that motion comes forward tonight I’m going to support it and put the money necessary to pursue it because I think you have created an absolute nightmare for the City of Goleta, let alone the neighbors that have had to put up with you.”
He went on: “And I think it’s despicable and I think it’s a sad commentary that you would take advantage of your neighbors to make this kind of money and not cooperate with them. You have complete control over your property, you’re the person who rents it out, you’re the person who can take care of who you rent it out to. And we wouldn’t have this.”
Council members pointed out that there are 700 vacation rentals in the area, 117 documented in the census, and the city doesn’t hear complaints about those properties.
Councilman Jim Farr emphasized the need to rewrite the Municipal Code to help deputies “enforce the peace in the neighborhood” with fines or other measures.
“There’s a saying, which I’m sure you’ve all heard: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me 29 times? What do you say to that?” he said.
Neighbors say the short-term rental is incompatible with the neighborhood and are so frustrated that they want an outright ban on vacation rentals in the city.
Bullemer, who lives in Goleta, said his property is rented out about 25 percent of the time, generally to families who are in town for special events. Bullemer has paid about $20,000 to the city in TOT.
He put up a sign reminding tenants to keep noise levels down and takes their $500 security deposit if there is a citation issued, he said. He also told the City Council that several of the complaints weren’t legitimate.
The rental is advertised on several websites, including a post just about every day on Craigslist, and Bullemer rents the 3,900-square-foot property for $600 per night or $2,200 per week. It’s a four-bedroom, three-bathroom house that he advertises as sleeping 12 people, since it has a pull-out couch and blow-up mattresses available.
Bob Freeman played a recording of loud talking and laughing, taken from his backyard.
“This is the noise that we listen to in the back of our house all the time, and Mr. Bullemer’s portrayal of people sitting there making no noise is such a falsehood,” he said.
Freeman has called police multiple times — most recently at 3 a.m. last weekend — and wants the city to take more aggressive action.
Neighbor Cathy Wolf said there are groups of 30 people who descend on the house and spend the weekend drinking and playing basketball nonstop, cursing loudly every time they miss a basket.
The visiting families are no problem, she said. “It’s these college kids on the weekends who are destroying everything.”
The visitors’ cars pack the residential street and block mailboxes to the point that the Post Office has warned residents they won’t deliver anymore if boxes are blocked.
Bullemer has no incentive to keep tenants quiet if he gets $500 extra if police are called, she said.
Brian Cox said the property is advertised as a party house, which creates an expectation for visitors. The noise issues are a symptom of the larger problem: public drunkenness and pot smoking, discarded beer cans and condoms on the street, crowds of 20 or more people and inebriated people trying to enter neighbors’ homes or looking in windows, he said.
Neighbors have tried to get Bullemer’s cooperation, but he doesn’t seem interested, Cox said.
Lucy Luciano, who has lived in the area since 1969, said the problems are so bad that neighbors would have to disclose the nuisance when they sell their homes.
“He’s ruined my property by ‘Hotel Serenidad,’” she said.