Lawsuit filed against SLO over rental inspection program

October 15, 2016

RentA property owners association and several landlords filed a lawsuit Thursday against the city of San Luis Obispo contending the city’s controversial rental inspection program is unconstitutional. A month earlier, another group started the process to have the program stricken through the initiative process.

The lawsuit, filed by the San Luis Obispo Property Owners Association, Steve and Janine Barasch and Matt and Jean Kokkonen , says that the city’s rental inspection program violates equal protection rights and the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

The suit says the inspection ordinance violates equal protection rights because it does not apply to all residential rental properties equally.

In May 2015, the city council voted 3-2 to adopt the ordinance that allows an inspector to enter and examine rental units to determine if the properties are safe and habitable. The ordinance also requires landlords to pay a fee to fund the program.

Landlords with rentals of two or less units are subject to the inspection program while buildings with three units or more are not subject to inspections.

City officials argue that buildings of three or more units are subject to inspection through a statewide program. However, the state does not require an inspection fee or have mandatory, routine inspections.

Because the ordinance requires landlords to allow inspection of unoccupied rentals, the suit contends it is a warrantless search of property violating the Fourth Amendment.

The suit also says the ordinance is vague which “makes it virtually impossible for the average citizen to determine what kind of penalty he or she can expect for withholding consent to an inspection,” in violation of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.

According to the suit, the rental inspection ordinance is unlawful because it discriminates between renters and homeowners and dictates an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.

Mayor Jan Marx, Councilman John Ashbaugh and Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson support the program. They argue there are deteriorating neighborhoods in the city where landlords do little to maintain their properties and that renters are afraid to report the issues.

Carpenter and Councilman Dan Rivoire voted against the rental inspection program, and have continued to ask that it be discontinued.

Many city residents have opposed the program, arguing it constitutes government intrusion and a tax on rentals.

Of the 321 homes inspected as of Aug. 1, only 37 passed the first inspection leaving many to question if the inspection program is a way for the city to increase revenue through inspection and permit fees.

In the lawsuit filed by attorney Saro Rizzo, he is seeking the elimination of the rental inspection ordinance, the cost of the suit and attorney’s fees.

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How about a refund for landlords that have already had to pay up for this unconstitutional scam? Or justice for tenants that have already had their rights violated?

For anyone to think that this ordinance was designed to be anything other than a source of revenue for the City, and to capture some of the revenue from evaded building permit fees would be pretty naive. According to the City data out of 3308 units registered 585 units were inspected and SIX of them were unpermitted units, 65 had some kind of alteration constructed.

Most of the violations recorded appear to be in the water heater not strapped / smoke detector missing category.

How many residents are familiar of a new state law which came in effect in 2016 requiring a smoke detector in every bedroom and in the hallways outside the bedrooms? I suspect not many. Wouldn’t it have been easier and less expensive on people’s wallets if a mailer was sent out by the City if they were so concerned about residents welfare?

The SLO Fire Department already inspects rentals of 3+ units every year. The bill is posted to the owners property tax: $65 admin. fee + $28 per unit every year. They do not enter individual units, but conduct a Fire Extinguisher inspection and inspection of common areas for fire hazards. It has worked for 11 years so far. Why wasn’t it expanded to SFR’s if safety was of such of concern. Personally I am more concerned with how some of the rentals look on the outside.

We had a few instances in SLO where the property owner died in a fire at their house which was completely packed with junk. Who is protecting them? Can they stop owners from being pack rats?

By the way, tenant / landlord relations are a two way street. There are plenty of avenues for tenants to pursue against an uncooperative landlord. Ever tenant and landlord should be familiar with this publication:

Seems to me they should add to the suit the illegal imposition of a tax as an issue.

Since the program constitutes an enforcement action of a government entity it looks to me to be more of a tax for imposing a political agenda than a fee to cover a government service. There are already a number of remedies under the law for renters to correct problems. Who is really benefiting here. The City and it’s tax coffers along with lazy renters. Obviously not the property owners. The taxpayers did not vote for these “FEES” and “PENALTIES”.

If all this city code enforcement program did was require code violations to be fixed that would be one thing but this program goes way beyond that. Property owners do not have an unlimited obligation to provide high quality housing to renters. Renter also have obligations Why should landlords have to paint, landscape, and improve their property to a standard the renters demand. That is what this program is trying to impose on individuals that rent out their property to others. For NOW, that mean if you own your home you won’t have to pay this new “TAX” for keeping up your own home.

The City already has numerous ordinances in place to deal with this issue. Just another ploy to grow government.

I was hoping someone would step up and do this. As a landlord in SLO I refused to participate in the Mayor’s get rich scheme and the city has no recourse and they know it. The city just tried to dupe landlords and tenants until they got caught and were forced to stop there illegal actions. Watch Marx destroy her emails so as to deny malfeasance. Hmmm sounds familiar.

Someone did step up-the SLO Property & Business Owners Association, of which the Kokkonens and Barasches are members along with about 100 other people. The SLOPBOA attorney, Saro RIzzo, and a few other people gave excellent presentations on the lawsuit, the ordinance, and the impacts on housing costs at their meeting on October 13.

Eventually the city will want to inspect every housing unit in the city on the pretext of “safe housing,” or “helping homeowners,” for an exorbitant fee, of course, The present Rental Inspection Ordinance is expected to generate $2.5 million in revenue in the first year, between registration, inspection fees, revisits, and permits for any required work. The city is using a sledgehammer instead of a boning knife to solve an alleged problem. But then in government, anything worth doing is worth overdoing, right?

Is this city run by Karl Marx or one of the Marx brothers you can see a lot of similarities to both.

Good! It’s an unconstitutional invasion of both renters and landlord’s rights.

If there is a problem, the tenant should report it. Otherwise, no government agents busting into the house on a regular basis snooping around ;) and then taking a cut.