SLO rental inspection initiative headed to the ballot
February 20, 2017
UPDATE: Mayor Heidi Harmon responded with a claim that the city council had already voted to repeal the rental ordinance. However, the city council voted to suspend the ordinance.
By KAREN VELIE
San Luis Obispo’s rental inspection ordinance is likely to be repealed after about a third of the city’s registered voters signed a petition to strike the controversial inspection program through the initiative process. If passed, the rental inspection ordinance will be replaced with a non-discrimination housing ordinance.
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.
Many city residents have opposed the program, arguing it constitutes government intrusion and a tax on rentals. Since its passage, renters have been removed from homes during repairs and some property owners have been forced to pay the city’s high permit fees.
Supporters of the program, which includes city management staff, contend there are deteriorating neighborhoods in the city where landlords do little to maintain their properties.
On Aug. 30, Carpenter, Stew Jenkins and Dan Knight filed the proposed ordinance. While they had six months to gather approximately 3,900 signatures, they were able to collect over 9,000 signatures in just four months.
The proponents then spent weeks pre-validating signatures to reduce the city’s time and cost of qualifying the initiative. That resulted in a total of approximately 7,400 validated signatures.
The SLO City Council can either adopt the ordinance and avoid a special election, or move forward with the initiative process.
“The law permits the SLO City Council to adopt the initiative measure,” Jenkins said. “Or, if the city council desires to continue to enforce its invasive, costly and unconstitutional ordinance, it can set a special election.”
Carpenter, Jenkins and Knight say the city’s rental inspection ordinance violates the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments. It contends the inspection ordinance is unlawful because it discriminates between renters and homeowners and dictates an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.
During her campaign, recently elected Mayor Heidi Harmon said she wanted to repeal the ordinance. However, now that she is in office, Harmon is reconsidering her stance, according to the initiative promoters.
In a meeting last week, city management staff appeared to be against a non-discrimination ordinance. Instead, staff was promoting a new rental inspection ordinance.
“Why does staff want the power to discriminate,” Jenkins said. “By submitting the thousands of signatures on the initiative petition, we felt we were helping the city council come to a decision to repeal the rental inspection ordinance when they consider it again in March or April.”
If the city council does not agree to repeal the rental inspection ordinance, the city is required to hold a special election within 180 days. At last week meeting, the city council voted to suspend the rental ordinance.
The council then discussed placing a repeal of the rental inspection ordinance on a future agenda along with a discussion of creating a new rental inspection ordinance.
“We already voted to repeal the ordinance and we are trying to come up with just a basic program to address the very essential aspects of health and safety,” Harmon said. “So I am am definitely not waffling, I’ve been tried and true.”
Nevertheless, the initiative not only asks the city to strike the rental inspection ordinance, but also requires the city to pass a non-discrimination housing ordinance. If the city council repeals the rental inspection but fails to adopt a non-discrimination ordinance, it is likely the initiative will go to a special election.