Editorial: All landlords should be licensed

We never like to see governments arbitrarily reach their hands into taxpayers’ pockets by requiring some unnecessary license or enacting a bogus fee.

But we believe the city of San Luis Obispo is completely justified in going after landlords who operate without business licenses. The licenses are a tool to help regulate what has morphed into a major income-producer in San Luis Obispo, and we applaud the city’s efforts to gain compliance with this often-overlooked requirement.

As Tribune writer AnnMarie Cornejo recently reported, the city is preparing to mail 3,900 letters to landlords who appear to be renting units without the required license. That’s a startlingly high number.

City officials suspect some of those landlords may not be aware of the license requirement. That’s possible, since not all jurisdictions mandate business licenses for rental units. Nor should they. If rentals haven’t been a source of problems or complaints for a city, we don’t see a particular need to require licenses. And really, if it’s a matter of a family here or there renting out a spare bedroom or granny unit, no big deal, right?

But in cities such as San Luis Obispo that have a large number of rentals and a history of issues associated with them — loud parties, parking violations, vandalism of neighboring residences, etc. — there must be a systematic way to track the number, location and ownership of rental units. Business licenses are a relatively simple way to do so.

This is also a matter of equity. If some landlords are paying the license fee, then they should all be required to do so.

Keep in mind, we aren’t talking about an inordinate amount of money. The application fee for a license is $68, and the annual fee for renewal is $59. (Landlords who gross more than $50,000 per year pay 50 cents for each $1,000 in receipts.)

Bottom line: Rentals are a business, and as business owners, landlords must be held accountable for what goes on at their properties — and that starts by cracking down on those who are operating without a license.