SLO's rental housing inspections subject of town hall meeting

Feb 15, 2017

Thursday evening, the City of San Luis Obispo is holding a town hall meeting on the city’s Rental Housing Inspection Program.  

The nearly two-year old mandatory program, called a neighborhood wellness program by the city, affects about 4000 rental homes. The city says over 60 percent of San Luis Obispo's housing stock, that's all dwelling units, is rental housing.

The program - called RHIP - has been controversial since it first became law in May of 2015. Homeowners don’t want more inspections and be forced to pay a $65 registration fee and $185 in inspection fees. They say the ordinance is an infringement on property rights.

Supporters of the program say it protects tenants. In correspondent sent to the city, one pointed to several other California cities that have similar programs. Another thanked local officials for mandating the program because it forced a negligent landlord to make timely repairs.

A screenshot from the apartment and house rental section of Craigslist SLO, taken on 02/16/17.

Two local attorneys and a former San Luis Obispo city council member launched an effort to stop the program in December. Since then, they say they’ve gathered over 1200 pages of signatures, asking the city to repeal the RHIP ordinance. If the city doesn’t comply, the group says in a statement issued this week, they advise officials to set a special election for area voters to decide.

The attorneys - Stewart Jenkins and Dan Knight - and former San Luis Obispo city council member Dan Carpenter call the ordinance "invasive, unconstitutional and warrantless."

Here's Jenkins speaking to KCBX in December. 

"The city of San Luis Obispo unfortunately has chosen the wrong remedy to solve a problem that had generated a lot of complaints, and anxiety by homeowners who live over, primarily, by Cal Poly. And the remedy they chose was this particular ordinance.," Jenkins said. 

Jenkins says the mandatory program was aimed at rooting out slumlords. The problem is, says Jenkins, the ordinance treats all landlords like slumlords.

"The tenants who were supposed to be the people protected by this, according to what city staff says, they never had a chance to vote on this," Jenkins said. 

Christine Dietrick is San Luis Obispo’s city attorney. She says election code determines the next steps. 

"In general, I see correspondence come in on both sides. There certainly have been people that were pretty strongly opposed, but I think the council also regularly gets correspondence from folks who feel like this is really necessary to improve the quality and safety of the housing stock, and to protect tenants from landlords who may not be as responsible as the vast majority of our landlords in the city are," Dietrick said. 

The city is not blind to the criticism. In the announcement for the town hall this week, the city’s community development department says the meeting is intended to discuss how the law could be "modified... identifying changes or even a completely new approach to address problems identified through open community dialogue." 

"From the city attorney's standpoint, I think I would like people to know that we certainly did look at the legality very carefully, and that we are certainly respectful of the fact that this is a very personal issue to people because it does involve their homes," Dietrick said. " And that we will be very careful and very respectful to make sure that we are doing everything in absolute accordance with the law, and with respect for personal privacy."

The town hall takes place Thursday evening, February 16, 2017, starting at 6 p.m. in the San Luis Obispo Veteran’s Building, located at 801 Grand Avenue in San Luis Obispo.