SLO code enforcers eye landlord housing the poor

May 12, 2014
Property owner John Holloman and tenant Fran Bonoir

Property owner John Holloman and tenant Fran Bonoir

By JOSH FRIEDMAN

A San Luis Obispo property owner contends that multiple tenants of his are facing the threat of homelessness as a result of unwarranted action city code enforcers are taking against him.

John Holloman, an 84-year-old retired medical doctor who owns a five-acre mountainside property that extends upward from the base of Cerro San Luis Obispo, rents two secondary units on his property at very low rates and has likewise let an impoverished man sleep in a greenhouse on the property.

Following a visit from city inspectors in January, the impoverished man is living on the streets and at least one other tenant on the property is at risk of becoming homeless.

City code enforcers allege that Holloman is violating ordinances by letting others live on his property. Community Development Director Derek Johnson has ordered Holloman to boot a woman living in a mobile home on the property or face fines and other unspecified penalties.

The mobile home Bonoir rents from Holloman

The mobile home Bonoir rents from Holloman

“We’re not trying to displace people,” Johnson said. “Anyone can be better in shelter, but there are federal and state standards for structures that people live in.”

In a January 20 notice, Johnson wrote that Holloman is violating a city ordinance that says structures must comply with state and federal building codes. The notice did not explain, though, what made a mobile home on the property out of compliance.

Instead, Johnson cited and explained another city ordinance prohibiting the use of a recreational vehicle as a dwelling unit.

“The recreational vehicle on the property is being used as a residence,” Johnson wrote. “No recreational vehicle, camper shell or similar device shall be used for living in sleeping quarters except in a lawfully operated mobile home park, travel trailer park or campground.”

Although Johnson insists that the home is an RV, an examination of the property shows that Fran Bonoir, Holloman’s tenant, is living in a mobile home and not an RV. Holloman’s living space also includes a sizable yard and a living room view of most of the city. The mobile home receives city water and uses a septic tank for waste disposal.

Bonoir said she was facing homelessness a few years ago when she struck a deal with Holloman to rent the mobile home at a rate she could afford.

67-year-old Gerard Degroote is now homeless.

67-year-old Gerard Degroote is now homeless.

“I would have been homeless,” Bonoir said. “I was ready to take my dog to the pound and go to the shelter.”

Gerard Degroote, a 67-year-old painter, was homeless when Holloman allowed him to move onto the property and live in the greenhouse rent-free. Degroote agreed in exchange to create paintings for Holloman.

In January, San Luis Obispo code enforcers came out to inspect the property after receiving a complaint from a neighbor. Johnson said the neighbor complained about a property right infringement, but he did not specify the allegation. The closest neighbor is about three football fields from the structures.

Four inspectors saw Degroote’s living space and said he belongs in the city’s shelter, along with all other homeless people, Holloman said. Degroote, who had a private living space and a studio on Holloman’s property, said he did not want to go to the homeless shelter.

Johnson’s code violation notice made no mention of Degroote’s living situation, but Holloman still booted the painter from the property out of expectation the city would come down on him, he said. Degroote is now living without a home and has no location to set up his painting easel.

Degroote's former studio

Degroote’s former studio

In recent years, the city of San Luis Obispo has pushed impoverished residents to enter the homeless services program provided by the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo (CAPSLO). Police officers have frequently ticketed those sleeping in vehicles on the streets, and the city council has passed an ordinance prohibiting the homeless from sleeping in vehicles on private property unless they enter CAPSLO’s case management program.

Homeless individuals in case management must turn over the majority of their income to CAPSLO or to a partnering nonprofit.
In January, a San Luis Obispo policeman ticketed Degroote for carrying an opened alcoholic beverage in public.

Commissioner Stephen Sefton then attempted to sentence Degroote to an arrangement with CAPSLO, according to court documents. No CAPSLO representative showed up to the sentencing hearing, though.

Sefton instead sentenced Degroote to a six-month stint on probation. As part of his probation requirements, he must avoid obtaining any tickets for camping in public. If an officer cites Degroote for camping in public, he will face multiple fines.

A third tenant lives on Holloman’s property in a permanent secondary unit. The city alleges that the guest home is unpermitted. Holloman said he bought the parcel as a two-unit property, and an individual was living in the second unit when he made the purchase.

The city has not indicated whether the tenant currently living in the guest home must go if Holloman does not obtain proper permitting.

Holloman said he is willing to work with city but has financial constraints. The retired doctor suffered major blows on real estate investments during the recent recession and nearly lost his home to foreclosure, he said. Holloman needs the money he receives from his tenants in order to stay current with his mortgage payments.

The property owner has already appealed Johnson’s ruling, and the dispute is headed for the city’s construction board of appeals. Ultimately, the city council could decide whether Holloman can continue to allow others to live on his property.


38 Comments

  1. r0y says:

    Have the homeless renounce their citizenship and be here illegally, that way they will get more services and have more “rights” – simple.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  2. NoBull says:

    it seems that this topic generates passion in those who believe it is the right thing to dodge the community rules simply for the money. hey! I’m all for screwing the Man too, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that there is a difference between un-permited structures and unsafe structures. If the building is unsafe or un-sanitary for human habitation, then close it down. If it’s un-permitted, let the homeowner prove when it was built before such things mattered. Believe me, if you go through all the steps and expenses to follow the rules, it pisses you off when someone flaunts their lawlessness in the press. That being said, I think the author of the piece was manipulated by the Holloman and his employee/renter.
    .

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

    • retiredpoliceofficer says:

      With the shortage of housing for poor and disabled people they should give Dr. Holloman a metal. At 84 years old the fascist City of San Luis Obispo has found an easy mark. If your homeless, poor, disabled, old, or suffer from mental illness the City will not tolerate your presence. You tarnish the City image.
      .

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 7

    • r0y says:

      Yes, because overpasses and creeks are much safer and sanitary; no bull, there!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  3. wineguyjc says:

    Derek Johnson says – and we are supposed to believe him, why? The City sometimes enforces the rules and sometimes turns a blind eye when their friends are involved. How about the blind eye on Moyan Terrace – that site was approved and all CalGreen Building Codes were waived – why, simply because the builder is a favored child. What a crock!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  4. slocalgal says:

    The timing of this story is amazing. My husband and are SLO residents and are going through a very similar situation. We purchased a small house with a second rental unit on Fredericks Street near Cal Poly in 2009. The rental unit is actually nicer than our home and was rented to tenants when we bought the property. In fact, the rental income is what enabled us to qualify for the loan. An angry family member (who lives in Pismo Heights and is not affected by our property) filed a complaint with the City, questioning the legality of the rental unit. The second unit shows up on the Assessor’s records but no permit can be located. The City inspected our property today and found numerous violations of the building code and the rental unit does not meet setback requirements from the property line. The building officials indicated that we may lose the rental unit. Without the rental income we are unable to pay our mortgage and we will lose our home putting our family, including two young sons, on the street. I am the fourth generation of my family to live in SLO and remember better days.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 3

    • wineguyjc says:

      slocalgal, let me guess a guy by the name of Ben. Here is a fact to consider at lunch time the community development director and his young partner go on long bike rides. In fact the guy rides his bike to work almost everyday, takes a 20 minute shower, gets dressed and then eats breakfast on tax payer dime. Again at lunch the Community Development Director goes on an hour bike ride with his young buddy, then comes back, showers for 20 minutes, eats lunch on tax payer time, then leaves typically by 5pm. This is the work ethic

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  5. NoBull says:

    The painter is homeless, and where do you think the valuable paintings are “stored indefinitely”?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  6. Pelican1 says:

    When you’re in SLO and so poor as we
    And bewildered by the world we see
    Why do people hurt us so
    Only those in love would know
    What a town without pity can do

    If we stop to gaze upon a star
    People talk about how bad we are
    Ours is not an easy life
    We’re like tigers in a world of strife
    What a town without pity can do

    The poor have problems, many problems
    We need an understanding heart
    Why don’t they help us, try and help us
    Before this clay and granite planet falls apart
    Take these eager arms and hold us fast
    We’re afraid this kind of joy can’t last

    How can we keep our families alive
    How can anything survive
    When these little minds tear you in two
    What a town without pity can do

    How can we keep our families alive
    How can anything survive
    When these little minds tear you in two
    What a town without pity can do

    No, it isn’t very pretty what a town without pity…
    Can do…..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

  7. unlisted says:

    That sure looks like an RV (travel trailer, not motor home) to me.

    Why can people only live in RVs in a “mobile home park, travel trailer park or campground?”

    The city also allows people to sleep in cars at CAPSLO’s parking lot. I would think that an RV with hookups on a 5 area site would be a much better, safer and healthier place to live than in a car.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

    • givemeabreak says:

      All’ they have to do is go to the county inpatient mental health and tell them they are suicidal. The new doctor there will let everyone live there as long as they like.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 6

  8. Kevin 99 says:

    Remind me: Who gets sued when someone burns to death inside an unpermitted structure that violates code when the city has been made aware of the deficiencies and then, because some libertarian goofs, anti-government moochers and bleeding hearts cry “leave ‘em alone!”, the city agrees to look the other way and ignore their own code requirements? Oh, yeah—the city gets sued.

    Look: If you don’t like the code, lobby to change it. If you’re not in compliance, get in compliance. There’s a reason that thousands are killed in earthquakes in places like Afghanistan and Iran when similar earthquakes kill only a handful in the USA: It’s called building codes. They save lives.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 6

    • OnTheOtherHand says:

      Some of the building codes do indeed save lives. Others use that as a reason but are written/applied in an overbearing manner so that those enforcing them don’t have to use reason and judgment. (Similar to “Zero Tolerance” rules in schools.) The rest are just there so that NIMBY neighbors aren’t offended by what they perceive to be ugly or a nuisance. Keep the first ones, get rid of the last and modify those in between and you would get a better consensus.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 7

    • r0y says:

      When was the last time the city was sued for something that occurred on private property? Code inspectors miss stuff ALL THE TIME, and the city is held indemnified. Have you never heard the expression, “You can’t fight City Hall” ?

      Please, let me know when the City was sued because someone’s home or building failed to meet code and a tragedy occurred.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

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