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Are you stuck in a SLO County rental with bugs, mold or other problems? Tell us your story

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Are you stuck in a SLO County rental with bugs, mold or other problems? Tell us your story

Picture of Lindsey Holden
The Tribune
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
San Luis Obispo County’s beaches and vineyards make it an ideal destination for vacationers and wealthy Californians — but the workers who power the region’s economy don’t share that wealth.

Forty percent of county residents are renters, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Affordable housing is challenging to come by, especially for people earning minimum wage salaries.

The county’s rental vacancy rate is 2.8% — lower than the statewide rate of 3.6%.

A fair-market one-bedroom apartment costs about $1,196, according to a National Low Income Housing Coalition report. That means residents earning minimum wage would need to work 77 hours per week to afford an apartment at that price.

This forces some people to live in run-down houses, motels and deteriorating apartment complexes, where multiple people sleep in one room with blankets for mattresses.

SUBSTANDARD RENTAL HOUSING IN SLO COUNTY

Grand View Apartments in Paso Robles, located directly behind the city’s welcome sign, is one well-known example of this dynamic.

In the heart of the North County’s wine country, hundreds of renters — many of whom pick grapes and clean hotel rooms — lived for years in housing filled with mold and bedbugs while the city did little to protect them.

The tenants filed a lawsuit against their landlords in May, with help from the San Luis Obispo Legal Assistance Foundation. They said they’d complained repeatedly to their property managers about problems but never saw results.

Now, those renters have been forced to find new places to live after their landlords opted to close the apartment complex and evict them.

The situation at Grand View isn’t an outlier — it’s the product of a complaint-based code enforcement system that rarely punishes landlords for violating state health and safety codes.

This leaves tenants vulnerable to abuse from landlords who neglect their properties and ignore renters’ concerns.

TRIBUNE INVESTIGATION

Over the past month, The Tribune has been hosting community conversations and knocking on doors to talk to renters about their experiences.

We’ve heard from dozens of tenants who are afraid to report problems in their apartments because they worry their landlord will raise their rents or that they’ll be evicted.

Instead, many are fixing problems themselves or continuing to live with the issues.

We’ve heard from parents who worry old carpeting is affecting their kids’ breathing and renters who are fixing their own plumbing and setting their own pest traps. Over and over again, tenants have told us that they’re stressed out and worry that they’re stuck where they are and don’t have anywhere else to go.

Some have also found their housing options limited by illegal landlord policies, like not renting to tenants because they have children.

TELL US YOUR STORY

The Tribune wants to tell stories that show tenants’ experiences. We also want to understand whether current policies are effective or why they’re not working.

Is our county’s complaint-based code enforcement system doing enough to protect tenants from poor landlords?

How many San Luis Obispo County residents live in rental housing that is negatively affecting their physical or emotional health?

What’s the best way to ensure tenants have safe, clean places to live?

Please take a few minutes to fill out our survey and share your experiences as a San Luis Obispo County renter. No identifying information you provide will be published in any future stories without your permission.

For more information about this project, please email tribune.rentalhousing@gmail.com or call/text 805-242-3006.

Feel free to share this survey and story with your friends and neighbors.

This reporting project is produced by the McClatchy Company with support from the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. The Center’s engagement editor, Danielle Fox, contributed to this story.

 [This article was originally published by The Tribune.]