Cal Poly Students And The Rental Housing Inspection Program
This house is unassuming enough from the street. It’s a typical San Luis Obispo suburban, cookie-cutter house — porch, drought-resistant garden, fence hiding the backyard. But, walking up to the front door, things start to seem a little off. The front door doesn’t seem to match the rest of the house, and it quickly becomes apparent that where the door was originally has been sealed over with drywall.
It’s shocking to walk into the house. Tiny hallways, tinier rooms, and a surprisingly sparse kitchen leave you wondering how someone can live here. How could anyone feel comfortable living in a place where the hallway doesn’t even fit your wingspan? How could anyone cook when only two burners on the stovetop work? How could anyone think this house was livable? But people do — or at least, they did.
Austin Riley called to have this house, his house, inspected by the Rental Housing Inspection Program himself.
The program was created to catch houses just like this one. Houses that were unsafe to live in, but were rented out to students nonetheless. Houses that far exceeded their carrying capacity, because the landlord decided to make one room into two, or an office space into a bedroom, or any number of safe living violations.
The business and administration junior said he knew it wouldn’t pass — the house was in terrible shape, and half the rooms were illegal.
“There were fake walls everywhere, and fake ceilings,” Riley said. “There was a fire alarm inside the fake ceiling on the real ceiling, and the batteries were dying. We could hear the batteries dying because it’d go off every once in a while, but we couldn’t get to it to make it stop beeping.”
Riley also said the front wall of the entire back house had been removed and replaced shoddily. He said a storage room had been converted into a bedroom with a closet put in, there were added bedrooms with no windows, and the bathrooms had been moved around from their original locations.
The whole house was completely unsafe, according to Riley. This led him to email pictures of the conditions of his house to Teresa Purrington, the Code Enforcement Supervisor of the Rental Housing Inspection Program.
Purrington responded, saying there was a 70 to 80 percent chance that, based off those pictures from the day they moved in, the house would get red-flagged right now. Getting red-flagged meant the house was unsafe to live in, and it would be on the priority list to get inspected first.
Riley said that if the house had gotten yellow-flagged instead of red-flagged, they would have had to stay in the house, and all the illegal walls would have had to come down.
“Half of our group would have been displaced,” Riley said. “And there wasn’t a guarantee the landlord would have lowered the rent at that point. He could’ve just kicked us all out but the five that were on the lease.”
This was worst-case scenario, according to Riley, because then they would have had to take their landlord to court to prove that he knew how many people were living in the house. It would have been easy, he said, but it would cost money and people would be kicked out, losing their deposit money.
However, that wasn’t the case, especially with further conversations with Purrington.
“Since we told her it later got worse, she said it was almost a guarantee,” Riley said. “We explained that the house started flooding, later we found termites, and the electrical works had gotten even worse.”
With that, the official proceedings began. Riley said that the city sent them a notice, asking for permission to enter the house for it to be inspected. Riley himself wasn’t there for the inspection, but some of his roommates were.
After the inspection took place, the city put a notice on the door, saying it was illegal for them to be in the house before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m., which basically only allowed them time to move out, Riley said.
“I made sure to find a new place before I sent the pictures over,” Riley said. “We basically did everything but sign the lease papers.”
After Riley and his roommates moved out, his old landlord gave them a paper to sign, stating they wouldn’t sue him. Riley said he never gave it back.
“He’s being nice to us, because he’s scared we’ll sue,” Riley said. “But he’s taking it out on our friends who live next door to our old house.”
That house was inspected as well, but Riley said it wasn’t in as bad of a condition, so the city just put up a stop work permit.
Riley said he got lucky with the house he now lives in.
“My new place is a lot better,” Riley said. “It’s completely new on the inside, which is a huge bonus. It’s 100 percent better than where I was living.”
However, Riley doesn’t support the process being mandatory. Although Cal Poly has stated they’ll rehouse displaced students in Poly Canyon Village, Riley doesn’t think they have the capacity.
“Most houses aren’t this bad,” Riley said. “By ‘fixing problems’ throughout the year, all you’re doing is displacing students. Not everyone is going to be as lucky as me and find a new spot.”
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