A lawsuit is calling San Luis Obispo’s controversial Rental Housing Inspection Program unconstitutional, but the city begs to differ.
Landlords Steve and Janine Barasch, Matt and Jean Kokkonen, and the SLO Property and Business Owners Association (SLOPBOA) are plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was announced at a SLOPBOA membership luncheon on Oct. 13.
“This program is the line in the sand,” Leslie Halls, president of the SLOPBOA, told a roomful of united members at Café Roma. “We need to come together. We need to get organized. And we need to defeat this thing right now.”
The lawsuit argues that the program, which requires a city inspection of rental properties every three years to check their conditions, violates equal protection rights and the Fourth and Fifth Amendments since it exempts multi-family dwellings with three or more units, doesn’t give landlords of unoccupied rentals an opportunity to refuse an inspection, and doesn’t outline what the penalties are for refusing an inspection.
The city of SLO has yet to formally respond to the lawsuit, but City Attorney Christine Dietrick addressed the allegations in an interview.
She said the inspection program excludes multi-family rental complexes because they weren’t a source of major complaints and are already subject to exterior inspections by state law.
“We just haven’t seen the level and complexity of the problems coming out of that category of housing,” Dietrick said.
It is within the rights of the city to craft regulations for the rental business, Dietrick said.
“Landlords and tenants don’t fall within protected classes,” she said. “Regulations relating to them just need a rational governmental purpose.”
Dietrick claimed that the ordinance requires “lawful entry” into a property, either through tenant consent or, if necessary, a court-issued warrant.
The SLO City Council adopted the program in May 2015. Its intent was to “promote health and safety by the elimination of substandard conditions,” but since its rollout, the majority of the City Council members believe the program is having unintended consequences, such as displacing tenants. The City Council will review the program in March 2017.
To finance it, the city charges landlords a $65 registration fee and a $185 inspection fee. As of Sept. 30, 3,328 units were enrolled in the program, with 1,117 believed to still be unregistered; 585 inspections were completed; 89 units passed on first inspection; and 264 units passed on second inspection.