Initial inspections of rental homes in San Luis Obispo could start as soon as next April under a program approved Tuesday.
Under the city program, single-family and duplex home rentals would be subjected to routine city inspections on a three-year cycle to make sure they are conforming to health and safety standards in an effort to curb blight and unsafe living conditions.
The San Luis Obispo City Council voted 3-2 to approve the rental inspection ordinance, with Councilmen Dan Carpenter and Dan Rivoire dissenting.
In addition, the council established fees and approved an amnesty program giving rental property owners with code violations a year to obtain permits and bring their homes into compliance without having to pay penalties or fees.
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“This kind of code enforcement … is just basically talking about bringing these housing situations in our city up to a basic level,” Mayor Jan Marx said. “I think this is a very important way to protect not only our tenants but the city’s housing stock.”
The ordinance will come back to the council at its next meeting for final approval.
Rental property owners have to register within 60 days of Jan. 1, 2016, or within 30 days from the time a unit is acquired.
The number of rental homes in the city continues to outpace owner-occupied homes. In San Luis Obispo, 62 percent of available homes are rentals, according to the 2010 census, well above the statewide average of 43 percent.
There are an estimated 12,700 rentals in the city; of those, about 4,659 are single-family or duplex units.
City code enforcement records indicate that most health and safety related violations in residential areas come from its low- and medium-density zones — about 80 percent of violations in 2013 were in those districts, according to a city staff report.
Last year, the city spent $130,000 investigating code cases in those areas, Community Development Director Derek Johnson said.
The program would target threats to health and safety, he said.
“This is about the minimum expectations — what you expect to get as a tenant, like heating, a door that locks, working smoke detectors,” Johnson said.
The council heard from about 25 people Tuesday night, with most speakers against the program.
Opponents, including many rental-home owners, said the program is intrusive and an invasion of privacy, unfairly singles out landlords and will increase the cost of housing for renters. Many said the city should focus on improving its current code enforcement and complaint system instead of introducing a new, costly program.
“I think people who rent property should be licensed … and have people consent to random inspections for code enforcement,” property owner Don Ernst said. “Whenever there’s a complaint, that could be taken care of and you could do it at a fraction of the cost.”
A few supporters who spoke Tuesday said the program would improve and maintain better-quality rental housing.
“The owners and rental companies that manage these properties are profiting off of exploiting students who are too nervous to upset their living situation,” said Cal Poly student Oriana Bardinelli, who said she has unsuccessfully complained to her landlord about numerous problems, including ants and construction debris.
Stephanie Teaford, representing Cal Poly, said the university also supports the program.
City staff said the program could be fully funded by fees after about two years: a $65 annual fee, a $185 inspection fee and a $65 re-inspection fee, as needed. Property owners who have maintained their rental properties could apply for a self-certification program for $65 per cycle.
The city’s cost is estimated at $256,861 for the first year of the program, and $483,553 for the second year, including staffing.