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


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.

Kevin 99

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.


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.


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.


This elitist Beverly Hills mentality has got to go.


The City has an ordinance whereby more that 5 unrelated people cannot live in a single resident. However, they must have at least 2 bathrooms and office street parking for the cars.

Spend your time wisely and go after the real criminals and stop supporting CAPSLO and the number game so they can get more clients, which in turn means more grant money, more employees, etc. Another government program that needs to grow and grow and grow. What a mess are society has created and government being at the root of it all.


I love how most of us can recognize this numbers game with CAPSLO and homeless, but we’re apparently blind when it comes to education, Common Core and Pearsons/Holt testing. More tests = more money. Guess what? It’s mandated that more tests be given. What a sweet deal. Sorry for the off-topic rant, but your comment was spot-on and just reminded me of a very similar “numbers game” involving our multiple, redundant levels of bureaucracy in education.


I have met Gerard Degroote. He asked me for a dollar and in exchange showed me pictures of a car he had designed. I found him to be a very well mannered, kind soul who has physical handicaps and has had some problem with drinking (what great artist hasn’t?!) I see him around occasionally and now I will go out of my way to help him.

These people that control our city are NOT LIBERALS like they claim to be. They are fully entrenched in the Democrat party machine. They come with promises of low growth, helping people, and protecting the environment but they are only helping themselves and building an infrrastructure for carrying out their “progressive” dream which as we can see, is totally self-defeating. I am not a Republican, so do not take this as an attack on the “other” party. I just see very clearly now what is going on, thanks to some additional information I received about Marx from a council member.

Screw these people. Let’s take our city back and send them packing.


“They are fully entrenched in the Democrat party machine.” Well said. Democrat, Liberal, Progressive; whatever word is used to define todays “Democrat”, I would submit that, under the current Democratic ruling party in DC, California, and elsewhere, we are seeing in this, the 21st Century, the American version of Naziism.

Not from the right this time. But from the left.


It may be from the left this time, but the right would be more than happy if it were coming from them… as it is in many states. Statists are the problem.


Sadly, it is what that “far right wing” has been preaching for decades. Of course the republicans have also been compromised, but they don’t hold a fraction of the control and power the democrat party does. The parties have failed us. Failed themselves. Where else do you get over 100 years of fighting for civil rights, only to have that turned on it’s head by one (finally) passage of a civil rights bill by the party that was opposed to it for generations? To this day I am still amazed that people do not know it was the Republican party that was FORMED to end slavery and bring about civil rights. They tried in the 1800’s, the 1900’s and when the Democrats finally saw the writing on the wall, they stole the idea, made it there own and voila! Of course the spineless Republicans never fought back (they never do, they’re not as annoying), and they were painted the party against minorities. Bizzarro world, indeed.


The government is supposed to help the people. This is another example of government run amok. Enforcing the law just for the sake of enforcement, but without regard for what is in the people’s best interest. This is what you get when the government gets too big.


The person in that picture they say is the 84 year old retired doc, he sure as hell does not look 84 in the picture more like late 50;s or so.


This is what the city fathers want….John Assbaugh and Jan Marx and Adam Hill want nothing less than the homeless to sign up with CAPSLO so these fine people can continue to bleed them dry by selling them diapers and plastic silverware.


This is a crazy story the reporter has spun. Holloman is no angel — he’s a neighborhood scofflaw. He’s financed a developer who puts illegal apartments into houses, then Holloman pockets the money made by renting these illegal units to students at very high rental rates. He’s been in city enforcement many times for this. The guy’s a serial law breaker, and to make him into a saint is just ridiculous. womanwhohasbeen there — you just don’t know what you’re talking about.


Proof of your claims would help us understand.


Well, some of the “proof” is in the story itself. He put his considerable wealth into what he must have thought to be clever get rich quick schemes — i.e., what the story calls “real estate investments,” including the type of which referred to previously. The operation’s ground rules were simple: buy high, and try to sell higher. How do you do that? One way’s by illegally adding a second unit to a house. Done illegally that might cost $12,000 to $15,000, but in slo it raises the sale value by about $200K (which also makes the house unaffordable to peons trying to get a mortgage). Only problem is that he paid too much, then asked even more out of pure delusional greed, and couldn’t bail out in time. I mean, really: One of this guy’s “investments” was about $400, and was placed on the market after “remodel” and second unit for $1.3 mil when nothing around it was selling for more than 600K! This was delusional. People are entitled to speculate, but nobody who speculates is guaranteed a profit. He implies he didn’t make one, but that’s seems really questionable. Anyway, the illegal second unit in his own house is just more evidence of that of which we speak.

Also note, he says he’s renting these illegal places to cover his debts — not as an act of sainthood, including what is obviously, from the photo, a travel trailer. On a septic tank in a city where septic tanks are illegal. Where living in a wheeled vehicle in a yard is illegal. And it’s not even as if he were doing this out of desperation, but to charge rent for this. As for the poor guy living for free in the greenhouse, I guess that is better than being on the streets. Always thought living in a greenhouse might be sorta cool, till the sun comes up.


Correction of typo: “One of this guy’s “investments” was about $400” — that should be $400K.


I was thinking more of filed police reports and criminal charges filed, I mean actual proof and not more of you opinions. It is clear you don’t like this gentleman but to prove wrong doing actual proof is needed. You mention a illegal second story, if truly illegal there would be a paper trail. You seem to question the way he says he made money, but unfortunately that isn’t always illegal, so you are certainly entitled to not like the way he made money but to claim it is illegal without real proof is not fair, in my opinion


kayaknut……Proof? Just go to the court house and you will have all you need!


Since I didn’t make the claim in the first place it seems odd for you to then state I am responsible to prove someone else’s claim. This seems to be a regular theme, a person makes a unfounded claim and then just tells the person who asks for proof that’s it’s out there, somewhere, and they just need to go find it… hmmmmmm. You wouldn’t be a politician or work in government would you?


Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers LIKED the idea of scofflaws, when “the law” and government became too invasive. Scofflawing in the face of overly-restrictive government rules and policies Is healthy. Just observe Supervisor Gibson.

In the “old days”, you’d let a destitute family member live in a garage or spare room. We took care of each other, had soup kitchens. Now we’ve got high tech fly-overs and CAPSLO.

I would call the residences in this story “legal non-conforming uses” and leave these people to provide affordable shelter for rent.

“Revnooers” and code enforcement…..scourges of liberty.


And what does any of that have to do with the city making him kick poor Mr. Degroote out on the street?


First it was Sunny Acres, now it’s this guy – a private citizen trying to help some people down on their luck. This is just simple persecution! We have illegals living ten to a house in SLO and no one minds; but let someone do a good deed and we’ll throw the book at him! This is a classic case of the abuse of the Neighborhood Wellness program. Leave the man alone! And begrateful that he is keeping these people off the streets at no cost to anyone other than himself!