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City of Santa Barbara files criminal complaint against local property manager over evictions

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – On Wednesday, the City of Santa Barbara filed a three-count criminal complaint against local property manager James Knapp for alleged violations of the City's just cause eviction ordinance.

Knapp was partially arraigned on the misdemeanor charges this week before the arraignment was continued until Jun. 12, 2024.

According to the criminal complaint, between Jan. 31 and Mar. 27 of this year, Knapp is alleged to have violated Santa Barbara's municipal code when he failed to provide necessary permits as well as properly inform tenants as to the cause of their eviction.

Denny Wei, Assistant City Prosecutor for Santa Barbara, declined to directly comment about the case against Knapp, but explained the City of Santa Barbara passed the ordinances cited in the criminal complaint as an enhancement to the state's Tenant Protection Act of 2019.

"[W]e really want justice to be served. And, if this is what it takes to do that, so be it," said Lisa Haworth, a resident who has lived at 215 Bath Street for the past ten years. "[W]hat they're doing to us is really unethical. They're the ones that are evicting us so, you know, the fact that the city is getting involved, is a relief to us."

In response to the criminal complaint, your News Channel reached out to Knapp's Defense Attorney, Robert Forouzandeh, for comment on the criminal charges.

"In my 17-year career, during which I have represented the largest non-profit and for-profit landlords in the tri-counties, this is the first time I have ever seen a landlord criminally prosecuted for serving an eviction notice. The fact that it [the eviction notice] was prepared by counsel makes it [the criminal complaint] even more egregious."

Forouzandeh continued, "Issuing an eviction notice should never be a crime and, historically, it has not. The fact that we consulted with the City Attorney's Office before issuing the notice because the City's ordinance is so vague should demonstrate good faith and negate any claim of criminal liability."

The California Tenant Protection Act of 2019 created a series of requirements that land owners would need to meet to qualify as a just cause eviction.

California has acknowledged a crisis of affordable housing that is both acute and unique to the Golden State, and the state's Department of Housing and Community Development has produced studies to assist counties and municipalities comply with state and federal property requirements.

Santa Barbara-specific tenant protections that add to state law passed in January of this year and the City's Housing Element was approved by the state housing agency in February of this year.

Both are tools the City can use to help people afford and keep their housing, but criticism of the new ordinance included no statutory cap on how much landlords could raise rent once renovations are completed.

Residents of the property at 215 Bath Street voiced those exact concerns when the property changed ownership in October of last year.

At the time of the change in property ownership, Knapp stated leases at the property were being renewed, but evictions issued later this year cited necessary safety improvements to the property that would require tenants to leave the premises for the duration of the work.

"I'm not an expert. I'm not a contractor. But if there is [a safety issue], by all means, let's get that done immediately. I mean, if there is a fire hazard, if there is, you know, a concern about plumbing, we want those things taken care of," explained Haworth. "[B]ut is it going to take more than 30 days? Do we really all need to be evicted for that to happen? I mean, you can look around and see. It's an amazing place. I don't see any concern for what they're making such hype about."

According to the criminal complaint's third count, Knapp failed to inform tenants properly of "why the work requires the tenant to vacate the residential real property for at least 30 days", a key component of the just cause portions of the ordinance in question.

Regarding those safety-focused renovations, Forouzandeh offered, "If the City's radical policies and enforcement practices lead to a safety incident because the landlord is unable to renovate a property, then the City should be held responsible for the blood that will be on its hands."

"The way to tackle the housing crisis is to allow developers to build new units at a scale we have not seen since the post World War 2 era," explained Forouzandeh when asked if there were more productive ways to confront the statewide housing crisis. "In southern Santa Barbara County, we need over 2,200 new units just to get close to being where we need to be."

While the statewide affordable housing crisis continues, the residents of 215 Bath Street will have to wait and see how the novel criminal complaint against Knapp goes here in Santa Barbara.

"I want people to know about my neighbors who have lived here for over 20 years and raised their child here," shared Haworth when asked what she she wanted to get across to the broader community. "I want them to know, as I mentioned to you, my partner is a firefighter, and what a small community we have. His captain's mom lives below me. His twin sister lives down at the end of the hall...if this continues to happen and we don't have that 10% rent cap to return, then most of the people who live here are going to end up...having to leave the state or the country."

Article Topic Follows: Santa Barbara - South County
215 Bath Street
affordable housing crisis
California Tenant Protection Act of 2019
City Attorney's Office for the City of Santa Barbara
criminal complaint
Santa Barbara

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Andrew Gillies

Andrew is a Digital Content Producer and Assignment Desk Assistant for News Channel 3-12. For more about Andrew, click here.


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