In recent years, and in direct response to the rising costs of housing throughout California, there have been calls to pass legislation intended to improve access to affordable housing in the state.
Here in Santa Barbara, these efforts have been galvanized by highly publicized mass evictions of working-class families forced out so that the buildings they were living in could be converted to luxury apartments, condominiums and other housing units.
Often, these evictions were performed by large, out-of-town property management corporations that seemed to have little if any interest in the long-term welfare of our city.
Marginalized in this debate about property rights are the voices of small “mom and pop” landlords — owners and property managers who live in Santa Barbara, and manage 10 or fewer properties locally.
These landlords often are the ones caught in the crossfire between efforts to regulate the more callous actions of large corporate property managers, and the righteous outrage of the tenant activist groups seeking to protect renters through the passage of just cause eviction rules, rent control and similar tenant-focused legislation.
While these new regulations are intended to protect tenants and to prevent the excesses of unscrupulous corporate property managers, there is deep and growing concern among mom and pop landlords that these regulations will themselves be counterproductive toward their stated goal of ensuring access to affordable housing.
These landlords foresee that these regulations will increase costs, reduce the agency of landlords in selecting tenants, and put a hard cap on rental incomes.
Together, the net result of these proposed regulations will be lower, and perhaps unsustainable, rates of return for mom and pop landlords. That in turn could result in more of the units owned by mom and pop landlords either being sold or handed over for management by third-party companies.
Ultimately, there is a fear of greater consolidation of Santa Barbara rental inventory under the control of the very same out-of-town corporations whose actions led to calls for greater tenant protections.
Mom and pop landlords’ retirements are usually directly tied up in the equity of our properties, and hence are subject to the vagaries of the real estate market and the laws that regulate it.
While we of course understand that these are the risks we take by owning property, it must be noted that, should net income fall — due to a combination of rising expenses driven by inflation, the implementation of limits on rental increases due to new regulations, and other economic pressures — then we and many other mom and pop landlords could find ourselves being forced to consider selling our rental property, as we might not be able to afford owning it any longer.
Should mom and pop landlords find they must sell, any new landlords taking over those properties will likely tend to be big investors with the money and business acumen to minimize their expenses and maximize their profits.
The obvious fear is that their treatment of tenants — as exhibited by the ugly mass evictions of the recent past at the hands of out-of-town investment companies — may be very different from the more personal, hands-on approach of the local mom and pop landlord.
We believe that such a turn of events would not be in the best interest of tenants nor the Santa Barbara rental market as a whole.
I am explaining the business aspects of being a Santa Barbara landlord and not looking for sympathy.
People often think landlords are very wealthy and are raising rents out of greed, but it’s not that way at all. We have to be smart to anticipate future expenses, protect our investment, and do the best we can to provide decent, livable housing to the people of Santa Barbara.
We would like to continue to do so, but fear impending regulation may make that goal impossible.