City of SLO settles rental inspection ordinance lawsuit

April 30, 2017

Mayor Heidi Harmon, council members Dan Rivoire, Carlyn Christianson, Aaron Gomez and Andy Pease.

After rescinding its controversial rental inspection ordinance, the City of San Luis Obispo has agreed to pay the cost and fees of a suit, filed by a small group of property owners and a renter, that demanded the ordinance be repealed.

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

San Luis Obispo based attorney Saro Rizzo represented The San Luis Obispo Property Owners Association, Steve and Janine Barasch, Matt and Jean Kokkonen and Kevin Rice in the suit that claimed the city’s rental inspection program violated equal protection rights and the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

The city then hired outside legal counsel who ultimately agreed to the demands of the plaintiffs rather than battle them in the court.

Leslie Halls

“This is a victory for both tenants and landlords, for their privacy, for their safety, and for the protection of their property from unwarranted government intrusion,” said Leslie Halls, president of the San Luis Obispo Property and Business Owners Association. “The primary goal was to rescind the rental inspection ordinance, and we succeeded.”

The City of San Luis Obispo also agreed to an undisclosed amount of attorney’s fees and costs in favor of the plaintiffs.

”We commend the City of San Luis Obispo for settling this case rather than engaging in costly, protracted litigation that would have had the same result; clearly the ordinance was not practical to enforce and had to be rescinded.”

In addition to the lawsuit, last year, Dan Carpenter, Stew Jenkins and Dan Knight began the process of promoting an initiative that would repeal the rental inspection program and require the city to adopt a non-discrimination in housing ordinance to help protect against the council replacing the ordinance with another rental inspection program.

Rather than adopting the non-discrimination in housing ordinance and staving off a special election, the San Luis Obispo City Council voted unanimously on April 18 to send the ongoing dispute over a rental inspection program to the voters.

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Maybe it is time to make those council-persons who vote for these measures to pay the lawsuit settlement.

If so, they would think twice before enacting foolish ordinances.