SLO rental inspection initiative headed to the ballot

February 20, 2017

A stack of 1,560 pages of signed petitions.

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.


San Luis Obispo’s rental inspection ordinance is likely to be repealed after about a third of the city’s registered voters signed a petition to strike the controversial inspection program through the initiative process.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.


I understand why so many people would be upset with invasive inspections, and this is an unwanted solution to an albeit real problem. In my neighborhood in SLO there are more and more “Calpoly” houses each year. I’ve watched several properties degrade before my eyes: tarped roofs for months at a time, driveways reduced to rubble, illegally converted garages, peeling paint, choked street parking, and that’s just what you can see from the outside. I’ve lived in such a house in college and I know the kind of wear-and-tear these places take. No one wants to clean up after that mess.

Furthermore, median home prices in the area are rising so rapidly that first-time home buyers are being squeezed out of the market because they don’t have the option of stuffing 6 students in their two bedroom home for $800 a month each.

How can we address this problem?

Jon Tatro

Despite what Harmon claims, she is talking like a tried and true politician and already backing away from her promise to repeal this law. There are already laws on the books for the few slumlords the city bureaucrats complain about.


Who do I call to get my money back??

Kevin Rice

City Council. And you should. Call, email, speak at meetings.


Again, the staff is running this city, not the Council. My question, not answered by any of the above….what happens to the several new employees hired for this inspection program?

Kevin Rice

That would be up to staff to determine.


Just as during the recent depression, the city will go around and pat themselves on the back on how they were able to get through the hard times without having to reduce staff. Here they will do the same, be all so happy they were able to transfer those people to other departments so as to not have to reduce staff, costing the taxpayers even more money.


I think it’s three or four employees, plus each one got a new City car to drive around.


The title is misleading. The petitions call for the CC to repeal the ordinance, or call for an election.


Another local government entity that has total disregard for the Constitution. Their whole goal is to squeeze every bit of money they can out of the citizens while having an attitude that if you question them you are a total pain in their ass.


Who is ‘Carpenter’ as referenced in this article. I guess this represents the pinnacle of journalistic reporting when the reader has to guess who this person is.

Kevin Rice

Agree. Former Council member Dan Carpenter; but you knew that.


This ordinance is about nothing but making money for the city of SLO, hiring more staff, and ultimately, rent control, inspections of owner-occupied homes, and, as the above writer has mentioned, expensive requirements to bring every property up to the newest codes before it can be sold. So much for fixer-uppers or foreclosures.

At the meeting at the veterans hall last Thursday, the overwhelming majority of those present early in the meeting stood up when asked who simply wanted the ordinance repealed. But that was too much information for the city staff and moderator, who proceeded to waste much of the evening telling us how to talk politely to one another, and then expected us to come up with a more acceptable ordinance. At that meeting the final decision was to put the ordinance on hold – a decision that had already been reached due to a lawsuit filed against the city by renters and landlords.

I would like to know how much the city paid this moderator. What a waste.

The city should worry about its bills and infrastructure instead of hassling residents.


This ordinance’s repeal is about nothing but making money for the landlords of SLO. Go look at the campaign finance reports — most of the money for the petition drive came in large amounts from out of towners. Why is it’s a local issue?

Kevin Rice

FALSE. The majority of funding came from locals, the largest donor by far being a tenant, and ALL the signatures are locals, the majority of which are renters.

Jorge Estrada

If this is about health and safety, then all homes will eventually be open for inspection. The purchase of a property “as is” will not longer be an option, everyone will be subjected to the whim of regulatory partnership in all transactions. Next, government realtors, private will be gone.