Petition to scrap SLO rental housing inspections faces final hurdle

San Luis Obispo County is verifying signatures on a petition to repeal and replace San Luis Obispo’s Rental Housing Inspection Program.
San Luis Obispo County is verifying signatures on a petition to repeal and replace San Luis Obispo’s Rental Housing Inspection Program. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Signatures on a petition to repeal San Luis Obispo’s rental housing inspection ordinance are now being verified by the San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder’s Office. If the petition is certified, the City Council will be required to either scrap the law or set a special election for voters to settle the issue.

The petitioners gathered 7,111 signatures, said Lee Price, the former city clerk who works on special projects such as this one. To hold a special election, the petition must be signed by 15 percent of the city’s registered voters — or 3,918 valid signatures.

Local attorney Stew Jenkins drafted the petition with former City Councilman Dan Carpenter and construction law attorney Dan Knight.

The petition was officially filed with the city Tuesday, meaning the Clerk-Recorder’s Office has until April 4 to certify the signatures. The cost to the city is an estimated $1,250.

The petition calls for repealing the ordinance, which subjects rental homes in San Luis Obispo to routine inspections on a three-year cycle to determine whether they conform to health and safety standards, adopted in May 2015.

Proponents saw the law as a way to protect renters from substandard living conditions, but opponents said it violates renter privacy and would shrink the number of rentals in a city already facing a housing squeeze.

The petition includes a replacement policy that calls for a “nondiscrimination in housing” measure, which would prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, income, sexual identity, ownership or renter status and other classifications by “imposing any compulsory program, policy, intrusion applicable to any residential dwelling unit.”

The replacement policy stipulates that “no determination to conduct an inspection of any dwelling shall be based substantially on any occupant’s age, income, disability, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual identity or status as an owner or renter of such dwelling.”

“Once the signatures are verified, which I believe will happen,” Jenkins said, “the City Council can avoid the cost of a special election by adopting this replacement ordinance.”

Once the signatures are certified, the City Council has three options: At its next meeting, it can adopt the petition ordinance, order a 30-day report from the City Attorney’s Office on the impacts of the proposal, or call a special election.

The election must be held no sooner than 88 days and no later than 103 days after it’s called.

It’s unclear how the proposed ordinance could impact any other city policies related to housing, in addition to the Rental Housing Inspection Program.

The City Council, with three newly seated members, already took a first step on Feb. 16 toward repealing the ordinance. The council unanimously directed city staff to formulate a repeal of the ordinance, a draft of which it will consider at its March 7 meeting.

The council is in the process of considering various ways to address concerns of citywide substandard housing and how a complaint-driven process might be beefed up.