SLO planning guest house rental ban
July 4, 2014
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
The San Luis Obispo City Council has given initial approval to an ordinance that would ban many property owners from renting out their guest houses.
The council voted 5-0 in support of the ordinance, which contains several changes to residential regulations in the city, including a new definition of a bedroom. City planners say the ordinance is intended to ease overcrowding and parking issues in residential neighborhoods, as well as to combat the growing trend of property owners converting areas within homes into bedrooms without obtaining city permits.
San Luis Obipso municipal code distinguishes a guest house from a secondary residential unit primarily based upon whether a kitchen, or something resembling a kitchen, exists within the structure. Guest houses do not contain kitchens while independent residential units do.
If the council passes the ordinance upon its second reading, it would prohibit property owners from renting guest houses to tenants separate from the ones occupying the primary residences. The ordinance would likewise prohibit anyone from sleeping in guest houses unless the homeowner is living at the residence.
However, the ordinance grants exemptions to property owners who have already obtained permits and city approval for their guest houses.
A second section of the ordinance redefines bedrooms to include offices, studies and other types of rooms often converted into sleeping quarters. By changing the definition of a bedroom, planners aim to prevent property owners from exceeding density requirements through unpermitted bedroom conversions.
The change will not affect properties currently in compliance with city code, but it will likely impact new apartment and condominium developments. Apartment buildings in San Luis Obispo are limited to a certain number of bedrooms, while single family homes are not.
Last year, illegal conversions of dens and lofts into bedrooms displaced 40 college students from their residences at the Pine Creek condominium complex. The conversions violated several city codes, including the density limit for the complex.
Between 2008 and 2103, city inspectors caught 61 unpermitted conversions of spaces inside homes into bedrooms. They also discovered 57 unpermitted conversions of guest houses into independent living units and 153 conversions of garages into living spaces.
But, city staffers say many more illegal conversions are taking place, and they are struggling to catch violators. Often property owners submit work plans to city staff for approval with the idea in mind of altering the project after inspection, planners told the council Tuesday.
The planners said that the unpermitted conversions create safety hazards and parking issues in neighborhoods, in addition to, at times, violating density limits.
It is unclear, though, whether the new regulations will make it any easier to catch offenders.
The San Luis Obispo Planning Commission rejected the ordinance last year, arguing that it was too unclear and difficult to enforce.
The city now has code enforcement officers patrolling neighborhoods, but legal restrictions, such as the Fourth Amendment, prohibit them from merely entering properties out of curiosity.
Councilwoman Kathy Smith said the city should aid its code enforcers by encouraging residents to report property owners who break the rules.
“No matter what we put in any of these regulations, we’ve got to encourage people to call us and tell us when they see something going on in a house that they feel is an inappropriate conversion,” Smith said. “People take for granted their right to change their household anyway that they feel, especially when they can get some rental income out of it.”
The ordinance will likely return for final adoption on a council consent agenda.