Many of landlord Dario Pini’s tenants live in apartments that are so badly maintained that the City of Santa Barbara’s code enforcement case could force them to move out while improvements are made.
The city won a Superior Court judgment against Pini last year, which started five years of court-supervised operation and maintenance on his 100 commercial and residential properties within the city.
The judgment is moving into Phase II, with code enforcement staff “ramping up against his properties” and handing out notices of violations, according to Assistant City Administrator Paul Casey.
There will be outreach efforts to help tenants learn their rights and get the relocation costs they’re owed, if tenants have to move out when their homes are being brought up to code, Casey said.
There will be a cap of $1,250 per tenant paid to Legal Aid on a reimbursement basis, he added.
The city will make efforts to educate tenants of their rights without having to refer them to get legal assistance, but this is a "backstop measure" for tenants," he said.
Pini had to pay $35,000 to the city in the court judgment, and the city is using $25,000 of its reserves to pay for the Legal Aid grants.
“So in essence, one could argue we’re using that (Pini’s payment),” Mayor Helene Schneider said.
“Is it our expectation that this will make Mr. Pini more compliant, or is this a pipe dream?” Councilman Frank Hotchkiss asked.
City Attorney Steve Wiley was blunt.
“This has been just a 30-year problem with Mr. Pini,” he said. “He just seems to not get it or not care.”
Pini has 400 to 500 units in town and doesn’t spend the time or money to maintain his properties, Wiley said.
His properties can be easily identified from the street, with trash piling up because Pini doesn’t want to pay for collection services, a lack of landscaping and paint, and windows missing screens, Wiley said.
While this judgment may not change how Pini operates, it may make him realize that noncompliance can get expensive. In the past, Pini would pay what it took to make up for a problem afterward, when and if he got caught, Wiley said.
Particularly with the court-ordered scrutiny, “I think now he will get caught,” he said. “We see some improvement in how he maintains the exterior of his properties, but not enough and not as much as every other landlord in town.”
Francisco said it seemed like the city funding legal action against a private citizen, so he couldn’t support it.
Tenants have already been coming to the Legal Aid Foundation’s self-help center at the county courthouse, often after they get notices of default and eviction, Legal Aid executive director Ellen Goodstein said.
Most of them are low-income tenants who are ill-informed on their renters rights, so the Legal Aid Foundation will be doing outreach and mailings to help people faced with possible evictions or relocations, she said.
The city’s civil lawsuit against Pini said his properties were public nuisances that threatened the community’s safety. They are packed with too many people, have pest infestations, and are poorly managed, the suit alleged.
A group of tenants in Pini-owned apartments on the 1500 block of Garden Street and 300 block of West Valerio Street sued Pini in September over roach and bedbug infestations. They claim that Pini has done nothing, despite numerous complaints and being sued and fined by the city.
He was also arrested for allegedly stealing construction materials, which was later reduced to a trespassing infraction.
The tenants are suing for back rent and damages, saying Pini didn’t provide safe and habitable apartments.