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Property Owners’ Attorney Calls Guadalupe Rental-Housing Inspections Illegal

City Council takes no steps toward repealing ordinance amid lawsuit threat

Guadalupe Mayor John Lizalde reads a proclamation during the City Council meeting Tuesday night. The city has been threatened with a lawsuit over an inspection program attorney Stewart Jenkins said is too far reaching Click to view larger
Guadalupe Mayor John Lizalde reads a proclamation during the City Council meeting Tuesday night. The city has been threatened with a lawsuit over an inspection program attorney Stewart Jenkins said is too far reaching (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The city of Guadalupe has been urged to drop what opponents called a broad-sweeping rental-housing inspection program or face a lawsuit.

San Luis Obispo-based attorney Stewart Jenkins, representing Guadalupe property owners he declined to identify, sent a letter earlier this month to city leaders contending the inspection program violates constitutional rights.

“I want to let you know this is serious situation when a local government imposes warrant-less searches without probable cause,” Jenkins told the council on Tuesday night. 

The council met in closed session to discuss anticipated litigation in addition to a threat to public services or facilities. However, council members did not take any reportable actions.

“I disagree with Mr. Jenkins’ legal position,” City Attorney Dave Fleishman said after the council meeting.

Fleishman said he would be responding to Jenkins in a letter. 

In his 12-page letter dated May 2, Jenkins said the city code calling for annual inspections of rental units creates “invasive impairments of individual rights under both the California and U.S. Constitutions."

He contended the broad-sweeping city inspection program equates rental dwellings with commercial businesses. 

The inspection program is so broad it exposes landlords and tenants to six months in county jail and a $1,000 fine for each day they decline to allow the warrantless search, Jenkins added.

“The owner is deprived of the right to make commercial use of the property as a punishment of asserting their right to be free of such searches,” Jenkins wrote. 

A year ago, the council adopted an ordinance requiring inspections to occur annually with the property owner expected to pay an inspection fee. 

Jenkins contends the voters had repealed the annual inspections when they adopted Measure W, one of three approved in 2014 to keep the city solvent.

The tax measure replaced the city's flat-rate business-license fee with a business tax based on a percentage of gross revenue.

“Measure W adopted a new Chapter 5 to impose a general city business tax without any invasive inspection requirements,” Jenkins wrote.

Because of the voters’ action in 2014, Jenkins said, the city last year should have asked voters to consider whether the inspections should return when the panel reinstated them.

Fleishman also said he disagreed with Jenkins' characterization of the initiative.

A rental-housing inspection program adopted in San Luis Obispo led to lawsuit where the city had to pay $18,000 in attorney’s fees. Jenkins said.

Additionally, one-third of residents signed petitions calling on the council to cancel the program, and at least one elected official was ousted due to opposition to the program, Jenkins said.

The San Luis Obispo council voted in February to suspend any new inspections.

Meanwhile, the Lompoc City Council is set to hear during its May 16 meeting about a multi-family residential occupancy inspection program, with a presentation by Fire Chief Kurt Latipow.

Details about the proposal were not available.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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