San Luis Obispo City Council is planning to revise its rental inspection program in March 2017.

Mayor Jan Marx, who is up for re-election in November, put the issue back on city council agenda after a large pushback from tenants and landlords alike. Marx said she and city staff will look to gain as much information as they can on the program and its effects by not only looking at the numbers, but also by surveying tenants and landlords.

“A lot of the campaign against the program has been based on fears of what would happen,” Marx said, “I’m always interested in the facts.”

City council adopted the program with a 3-2 majority in March 2015. The goal of the program was to ensure renters in the city would have living arrangements that are up to health and safety standards.

The city conducted 585 inspections as of September 30. Only 15 percent of inspected units passed on first inspection.

Eighty units have refused inspection.

To have an inspection done, the property owner must register and pay a fee of $65 per unit.

As per the city ordinance, all residential units that are single family dwellings, duplexes and some condominiums that are rentals require registration with the program. Each unit is required to be inspected every three years, with the possibility of a self-certification process if the unit passes the initial inspection.

While 3,328 units have registered, 759 have filed for exemption. The program estimates there are over a thousand more units that have not registered.

Vice Mayor and City Councilman Dan Carpenter was one of the two in the council who voted against the program. Carpenter says the program is a breach of the 4th Amendment right to privacy.

“To give [right to privacy] up was just unsettling to me, I just couldn’t live with that knowing I was passing a policy to do it,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter said the program was also discriminatory toward renters.

“If you happen to choose to rent … all of a sudden you’re targeted as an assumed housing environment that would have some problems,” Carpenter said.

Marx said city council felt the need to make sure that people are living in the “basic, healthy units that they deserve.” She said that city council’s decision was to take a comprehensive approach with the whole city.

However, Carpenter said that many of the items that are inspected in rental units through the program are not necessarily health and safety issues, overreaching the intended responsibility of the program.

Carpenter, who will not be returning to city council after this election, is circulating a petition to repeal the Rental Housing Inspection Program. If the petition is passed, there will be a special ballot for registered voters to repeal the program. Carpenter hopes that enough support will persuade city council to adopt the repeal outright.

But Marx said that adopting the appeal outright would create liability for the city, opening the possibility of litigation. She hopes to fix the program by having it on the city agenda to be revisited in March. 

“I think the new city council is really the best group to decide the future of the Rental Housing Inspection Program,” Marx said.

Meanwhile, the city is continuing to conduct inspections and expects to finish with 700 total inspections for 2016. The city creates priority for which units will be inspected.

According to the program’s quarterly update, the highest priority for inspections are units that have had a code violation in the past five years. The second priority listed is for properties closest to Cal Poly and properties in the Foothill Boulevard area.

Carpenter says the Rental Housing Inspection Program and many other city ordinances target students.

“While we do cover everybody, I believe the origin of [ordinances] come to address students,” Carpenter said, “we wouldn’t have a noise ordinance if we didn’t have students in town, we wouldn’t have a trash can ordinance if we didn’t have students in town, we wouldn’t have an unruly gathering ordinance, we wouldn’t have those triple fees.”

However, Marx said students are not being singled out and that it would be “illegal and ethically reprehensible” to do so.

Both Marx and Carpenter say that relationships between students and long-term residents are improving. The mayor and vice mayor also agree that more housing on campus will help improve the housing market in the city.

Dan Carpenter will not be returning to city council, but is running for 3rd District County Supervisor against incumbent Adam Hill.

Marx is running to retain her current position as mayor of San Luis Obispo. Former State Assembly candidate Heidi Harmon is the only other person in the running.

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