SLO condo owners won't pay relocation costs for displaced students

San Luis Obispo city officials tagged the Pine Creek condominiums for safety violations.
San Luis Obispo city officials tagged the Pine Creek condominiums for safety violations. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

A rarely convened San Luis Obispo board granted a slight reprieve to 34 condominium owners who were illegally allowing students to live in lofts and dens not intended for sleeping.

San Luis Obispo’s Building Construction Board of Appeals ruled Monday that those condo owners will not have to pay relocation expenses for nearly 40 students who were displaced because they didn’t have to leave the homes entirely.

The two-bedroom Pine Creek Condominiums on Foothill Boulevard were tagged by the city’s building officials in February for illegally allowing residents to live in loft spaces and dens not permitted as bedrooms.

The city condemned the loft areas from use after code enforcement officers found that students were living in lofts that were intended as storage space only.

A state law enacted in 2004 entitles a resident removed from a rental home because of health and safety violations, which endanger the resident’s safety, to seek financial retribution.

Attorney John Fricks, who represented 23 of the 32 condo owners, argued that the students involved were not completely displaced from their homes because they could share one of the two existing bedrooms with the other tenants in the home.

The board of appeals, comprised of community members involved in trades like architecture and real estate, agreed.

Fricks also successfully won additional time for the property owners to fix violations such as additional walls built to transform dens into bedrooms or staircases built to access the lofts.

The condo owners now have until August to undo any improvements made without permits.

The city had originally asked the work to be done by March 12 and later extended that to June 30.

Maintenance closets used to house water heaters and furnaces in the lofts posed safety hazards to anyone sleeping in the same room, such as carbon monoxide poisoning, asphyxiation or fire, city officials said.

Many of the lofts were also in violation of a building code that requires an emergency escape or safety window.

To prevent future violations, the city is requiring that the condo owners to attach a covenant to their properties to make it clear that the lofts are not permitted as bedrooms.

Homeowners will also be required to provide annual verification to the city that the lofts and dens are not being used for living quarters.

Jim Kelly has owned one of the condos since the late 1990s when his son went to Cal Poly.

Kelly said he has been frustrated by the city’s approach, which he believes is more focused on enforcement than compliance.

“They came out and within four days condemned every building there, which is in their purview,” said Kelly. “The total approach was to beat us with a stick and take no prisoners.”

The Building Construction Board of Appeals found Monday that the city’s code enforcement officers acted properly because of the health and safety concerns.

Kelly rents the condo to four students annually — the maximum amount allowed at the condos because of parking and other constraints.

“The city has essentially said that the whole thing is my responsibility,” said Kelly. “No one is holding accountable the college students who made the choice to move their bedrooms into the lofts.”

The student living in Kelly’s loft chose to leave the condo. Kelly paid for a $300 moving truck to help him relocate his belongings.