In 2014, the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors will continue pressing local legislative changes on behalf of current and future property owners. One issue we have been working on for several years is Santa Barbara’s Zoning Information Reports, a report based on an inspection of the property and review of city permits and plans by city personnel.

Ed Fuller

Ed Fuller

These reports, which have been required on every residential transaction for decades, have in the past typically only called out the most egregious violations — or missed them altogether. The city now, with new personnel, is finding that many past reports are inaccurate.

Since the city never took responsibility for the accuracy of the reports, even as buyers relied on them, they are now enforcing the correction of violations that may have existed for several past Zoning Information Reports and for decades.

When these inspections and reports were first instituted in the 1970s, the prevailing rule was “buyer beware.” The seller was not required to disclose any defects and may have in fact tried to hide problems. Today, the rule has reversed. If a seller fails to disclose a defect they are aware of, such as any unpermitted repair or construction, they are liable and may find themselves in court paying large damages.

The Transfer Disclosure Statement, used in every residential transaction and mandated by state law, specifically asks the seller if they are aware of any unpermitted repairs or construction. Further, buyers are admonished to research permits and plans on every purchase. These are available at the cities offices at Garden and Cota streets.

Professional planners can be hired to provide this research if a buyer feels overwhelmed or unqualified to do it, and these planners do have liability for their reports.

The point is, a service provided by the city that may have once been valuable for buyers is no longer needed, and the tax it puts on every single and multifamily transaction, $465 or more, for a report that the city takes no responsibility for, is a waste that should be ended now.

Ed Fuller is a real estate broker with San Roque Realty Inc. and president of the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors. Contact him at ed@sanroquerealty.com or 805.687.1551. The opinions expressed are his own.