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Ordinance protecting tenants rights to a safe living environment could be coming to Santa Barbara County

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SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. – Zachary Brenner's dream that his Isla Vista apartment was filled with asbestos got him thinking about a tenant's right to a safe living environment, causing him and the Isla Vista Tenants Union to start drafting a county ordinance to ensure those rights.

Under California law, the implied warranty of habitability guarantees that a rental property meets basic living and safety standards, and requires landlords to fix the issues if those standards are not met.

"Warranty of habitability is essentially all of the requirements that a landlord has to follow; that can include having heating in the unit, having a working stove, the absence of pests or black mold," Brenner explained.

"I deal with a lot of tenants, and the biggest problems that the IVTU hears are issues dealing with habitability – black mold, cockroaches are a huge problem too. A lot of tenants don't know what's required of the landlord, they think maybe it's their fault."

While the warranty of habitability is required under state law, Brenner said that there is virtually no enforcement.

He has been working with multiple Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors to get an ordinance that would provide "co-educational enforcement" to the board.

The ordinance would require landlords to place a disclosure of warranty of habitability inside the lease at signing, similar to disclosures for if the house has asbestos or if lead paint was used, Brenner explained.

The only difference between this disclosure is that landlords and tenants wouldn't have to sign any document, he added.

"The hope is that it would be co-educational. The tenant may not know what is expected of the landlord and landlords don't always know what is expected of themselves," Brenner said. "What this would do would be a formal enforcement through education that is mandatory at the lease signing."

The disclosure would be a low-cost, essentially no-cost, fix to the issue that would benefit both parties, Brenner said.

Brenner called the drafted ordinance revolutionary, saying that there is no similar law in California.

However, some local landlords have said that the list of mandatory disclosures required in lease packets is already running on the longer side and may cause tenants to gloss over the information.

"We believe that all individuals should be empowered by knowing and understanding their rights and responsibilities under the law, including implied rights," said Michelle Roberson from Sierra Property Management, which has several properties in Isla Vista.

"The continuous addition of legislation requiring affirmative duties of property providers, however, are making many small mom and pop business either sell to large corporations or relinquish their responsibility to management companies."

While Roberson said that Sierra Property Management thanks the IVTU and other community resources who provide information to residents, she said that the consequences of another mandatory disclosure ordinance could have a negative impact on the community.

By including another mandatory disclosure, and consequently making it more difficult for smaller rental businesses, housing prices would in turn increase, Roberson said.

"This is a great loss to the tenant community as a whole as it drives prices higher and/or removes units from the rental market when we are already experiencing a housing crisis," she continued.

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Jade Martinez-Pogue

Jade Martinez-Pogue is the Assignment Editor and web journalist at News Channel 3-12. To learn more about Jade, click here

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