Overdue plumbing and electrical updates at center of 215 Bath Street”renovictions” dispute

SANTA BARBARA, Calif.–The apartment buildings at 215 Bath Street may look like a hotel being renovated because it used to be hotel.

Some of plumbing and electrical wiring date back to those days, decades ago.

But renovations have put the concerns over “renovictions” in the spotlight.

The property manager, James Peter Knapp who works for The Koto Group, is due in court next month to answer three misdemeanor charges.

“Our law firm, Reicker Pfau, prepared all of the just cause notices in question. I signed the notices that our lawyers prepared as the property manager, and I am being criminally charged,” responded Knapp when asked for comment on the charges. “This is a new ordinance, and as far as I am aware, the first time it is being challenged. The City Attorney’s office filed charges without ever asking a single question, or stepping foot onto the property to verify any information.”

Knapp is accused of terminating tenancy without just cause, failure to comply with Just Cause eviction notices, and failure to serve a copy of permits.

The remaining dozen residents have a message for the owners.

“I would tell the owners we have a great community here. We don’t want them to not make it nicer, we just don’t want to be kicked out,” said Mike Aracic.

“They have been around the property numerous times and never have once said hi to us,” said Corina Svanica. “We are working class people that work at local companies and we want to work with the owners and address the safety concerns and have a nice place to live.”

Carmen Anguianos said she has lived in her Bath St. Apt. twice.

She moved to Maui and when she moved back, she rented the same apartment.

She said she doesn’t always feel safe with construction workers coming and going.

Other residents worry new plumbing and electric lines will lead to higher rents.

When the renovations began, residents said the 215 Bath website advertised to college students.

Santa Barbara City College is close.

The property owner and manager’s attorney defended their actions saying work needs to be done to prevent fires on the property in the letter below to the City Council.

Dear Council Members of the City of Santa Barbara and Board Members of the Santa Barbara Rental
Property Association,

Thank you for connecting with us and talking to your board at the Santa Barbara Rental Property
Association about our issues at 215 Bath Street. Our recent experiences with the City of Santa Barbara
and the shift in how landlords are being treated with the newest Just Cause ordinance is a cause for
concern for all landowners in the City. Our primary concern is that the safety of buildings is no longer a
priority for the City Council, and if anything, they are actively blocking the ability to remedy severely
unsafe conditions. The newest ordinance in theory allows landlords to repair unsafe conditions at their
property, however by utilizing vague language in a newly passed ordinance combined with aggressive
and litigious enforcement by the City Attorney, they are in practice signaling that no one should fix up
their property or else they will face criminal charges.

To bring you up to speed, we previously served Just Cause notices to the remaining tenants at 215 Bath
Street. Subsequently, when one of the notices expired and the tenant had not vacated, we filed an
unlawful detainer complaint. In response, the tenant’s attorney at Legal Aid filed a demurrer to attach
our UD [unlawful detainer] complaint. The demurrer listed 3 different issues; alleges we did not plead compliance, said we needed to state a specific amount of time needed to complete the work rather than stating more than 30 days, and they claim we failed to include the correct copies of permits. The first 2 items were straightforward and easy to address. However, we were unclear on exactly what was meant in the ordinance by providing a “permit”. We provided permit documents we felt were sufficient as well as identified the permit numbers, but the tenants attorney said we also need to provide other permit
records such as the application for the permits in the street file. That said, we had Kevin Nimmons, our
attorney who is cc’d, reach out to Denny Wei (city attorney’s office) to confirm what the city meant in
the ordinance by requiring landlords to provide copies of the permits. Denny confirmed we need to
provide the “permit record”, which was different than the tenant’s attorney said was required. We
rescinded the notices, dropped the case and reissued a new notice pleading compliance, stating how
long we estimate construction will take, and attached a contractor’s report supporting the estimated
time, and adding the permit record to the notice. To be clear, we had all permits needed for the work to
take place when serving these notices in good faith- that has not been at question.

On May 3rd our attorney, Kevin Nimmons, received a letter from Denny Wei/the city attorney’s office
charging 3 misdemeanor charges against our partner/property manager, James Knapp, for failure to
comply with the Just Cause ordinance. See attached.

After receiving the letter, Kevin reached out to Denny Wei. Denny said we are not acting in good faith
and claimed the work is not going to take longer than 30 days. How Denny made this determination
without first having had a discussion with ownership, visiting the property, or understanding the
conditions on site is unclear to us. Meanwhile we are 45 days into construction on adjacent units and we
are not even halfway completed. Denny is saying we did not send copies of the permits. We sent what
we considered “permits” when we served the initial Just Cause notices. The tenant and the tenant’s
attorney easily located the “permit record” based on the permit numbers and other documents we
attached to the notice. If the ordinance meant to include a specific document which is the “permit
record”, the ordinance should state that explicitly. If you ask a contractor what a permit is, most will tell
you it is a stamped set of plans, a job card, or perhaps a permit number- hardly any would view the
“permit record” located in the city file system as the definition of a permit. When the question came up
with the demurrer on what is considered a permit we asked the city attorney’s office to confirm which
they did. We dismissed the UD complaint on May 2, 2024. We then reissued the new notices to
terminate to the remaining tenants with what the city confirmed they recognize as the “permit”. See
attached emails. After we dismissed the case and re-issued the notice, we received the letter from
Denny/the city’s attorney’s office charging James Knapp with misdemeanors. You may notice the date of
the letter is April 31, which is not a valid date. Clearly we are not acting in bad faith otherwise we would
not have reached out to the city’s attorney’s office to clarify, nor have dismissed the UD complaint prior
to receiving Denny’s letter.

This is just an example of what other property owners are likely to face in attempting to utilize this new
ordinance, and we are the first that we are aware of to test this new notice requirement. We have spent
tens of thousands of dollars on some of the best expert legal counsel available to us with knowledge
about the landlord-tenant space. Our counsel, Kevin Nimmons, even provided language and pointed out
numerous issues with the previous ordinance which were incorporated in the most recent version
passed by the City. Tenants have access to informative city provided pamphlets about their rights as
tenants, but landlords are left with no clear guidance from any city official on how to interpret these
complex issues. If we cannot do it in good faith, with a building that has major issues using the best
counsel available to us without being sued, what other property owner will fare better? We are the first
to acknowledge when there is a new ordinance of any sort it can take time to work out best practices
and how to implement these laws. What we would ask for is a willingness to meet property owners half
way and communicate effectively to find solutions together.

215 Bath Street consists of 3 buildings that are 70-100 years old and have been mismanaged with tons
of deferred maintenance (knob and tube electrical in one building, faulty and dangerous wiring in all
buildings, plumbing issues, etc.). See attached plumbing and electrical reports that demonstrate how
many issues are present. My entire life I have understood good landlords to be landlords who renovate
and maintain their buildings. That is what we are trying to do. Denny was literally hired by the city
attorney’s office to go after substandard housing/Dario Pini in 2019 (see article below) and now he is
going after us/JP for trying to renovate substandard housing. To be facing criminal charges for trying to
update old housing and invest in our community is nonsensical. These policies trade our safety for short
term political wins related to housing affordability, which we are the first to admit is a core issue in our
community, however it is not one that cannot be solved by pushing tenants and landlords to accept
unsafe housing conditions. Our government’s highest purpose is to provide a safe community for the
citizens of Santa Barbara, and they are abrogating that responsibility by criminalizing the ability to make
necessary repairs in rental properties. By taking this approach the city is telling landlords not to fix up
properties. Property managers will refuse to manage apartments in fear of getting criminally charged
for minor, good faith defects in a notice to terminate. Our doors are open at 215 Bath for any member
of City Council, City Official, or interested party to see for themselves first-hand the hazards and issues
we are facing, we encourage and have invited members of the council to see these issues themselves.
This is not an abstract political debate, this is a real world situation that impacts everyone. We need all
interested parties in the community to come together to find a solution and a way forward. Feel free to
reach out to us or Kevin to confirm any of the facts mentioned above.
Sincerely,
Chris Parker

Some people in the construction business, including Louie Mena of Do It All Home Improvement, consider the Just Cause Ordinance and its construction timeline requirements at odds with safety.

Residents said most of them pay around $2,000 a month for their studios.

They said it is more than a third of their income, but less than they would pay in the surrounding area where apartments for rent are scarce.