A landlord is taking a stand against a local ordinance he says is aimed at blaming rental owners when tenants throw parties.
The UC Santa Cruz partnered with the city of Santa Cruz to orchestrate an inspection program for student housing in an effort to scale down complaints of overcrowding and safety issues in rentals near campus, many of them in older homes and retrofits.
However, the landlord in question says the city is including parties as a safety issue. He claims that the language of the ordinance places a heavier burden on landlords whose tenants have been caught partying because they are more likely to have frequent inspections.
The inspections cost a minimum of $65.
Pointing to the question of how the safety inspections will solve the noise problem, the landlord accused the city of using the process to increase its revenues during lean times at the expense of landlords. It was the final straw, in his view, of a trend toward increased local taxation and regulation. He has filed a suit challenging the constitutionality of the ordinance, mainly on the grounds that it violates equal protection by creating different safety standards for landlords than homeowners, and singling out properties where partying occurs.
A city attorney reportedly responded that equal protection only applies to members of a protected class, such as sex or race.
The landlord points out that the California Court of Appeals overturned a City of San Diego ordinance over ten years ago on the grounds that it violated the equal protection rights of landlords. (In that case, the city placed occupancy restrictions on student rental properties, but not on homeowners.)
Reaction to the ordinance is mixed. A local citizen complained that the sidewalk in front of the rental home in question is in bad repair, which makes it hard for families to pass by. Also, they find this is not an attractive property, and therefore should be condemned. To force the issue, they recommend a lien placed on offending rental properties to push a landlord out of the neighborhood.
Others write that a fine should be levied against a landlord every time a student/tenant throws a party.
Some student renters, on the other hand, have suggested that the inspection fees and possible denials of rental licenses could drive up rents in an already cherry-picked market.
This was the fear when the city of Belmont, New Hampshire proposed a similar ordinance requiring inspections. There, an inspector could note whether the lawn was recently mowed or whether the tenant’s kitchen was being kept clean.
For landlords, ordinances like these are difficult to enforce. It’s hard to describe the prohibited conduct in a lease agreement, and sometimes the conduct that landlords are asked to restrict is legal.
UC Santa Cruz did not appear on the Princeton Review list of the top 20 party schools for 2010. In fact, a popular student rating service gave Santa Cruz a B- for nightlife, citing the likelihood that local police will be on the scene of a party.