College Area Renters & Landlord Assn. v. City of San Diego

Decision Date05 February 1996
Docket NumberNo. D019929,D019929
Citation42 Cal.App.4th 543,50 Cal.Rptr.2d 515
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
PartiesPreviously published at 42 Cal.App.4th 543 42 Cal.App.4th 543, 43 Cal.App.4th 677 COLLEGE AREA RENTERS AND LANDLORD ASSOCIATION, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. CITY OF SAN DIEGO et al., Defendants and Appellants.

John W. Witt, City Attorney, C. Alan Sumption, and Leslie J. Girard, Chief Deputy City Attorneys, for Defendants and Appellants.

Asaro, Keagy, Freeland & McKinley and Timothy M. Barry, San Diego, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties and Jordan C. Budd, San Francisco, A. Dale Manicom, San Diego, and Mark R. Lippman, La Jolla, amici curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Respondent.

HUFFMAN, Associate Justice.

College Area Renters and Landlord Association (hereafter, CARLA) obtained a summary judgment in its favor, striking down City of San Diego Municipal Code section 101.0463 (hereafter sometimes referred to as "the ordinance"). We affirm the summary judgment, premised on our holding that the ordinance violates the Equal Protection Clause of the California Constitution. 1 Although designed to address what is perhaps a legitimate problem of overcrowding of detached dwellings in certain single-family residential neighborhoods, the ordinance makes an irrational distinction between tenant-occupants and owner-occupants of those dwellings.


In 1985 residents formed a task force to evaluate the need for regulation due to overpopulation of single family housing units in certain areas of the city. In 1986, the Planning Department was directed to conduct a survey to determine the severity of the problems associated with "mini-dorms." 2 Surveys were randomly sent to residents in targeted areas. The survey instructed residents to answer questions pertaining to whether mini-dorms created a problem in their neighborhood, with "mini-dorms" defined as follows:

" 'Mini-dorms' are detached houses in single-family neighborhoods (i.e. not apartments or condominiums) that are characterized by having so many residents that they create real problems for others in the neighborhood. These problems range from nuisance problems to true health and safety issues. While mini-dorms are sometimes associated with groups of students in rented houses, the problem may occur anytime there are more people living in a house than it was designed for and the lifestyle of the residents creates problems for their neighbors."

According to City Planning Department reports, 77 percent of the returned surveys reported no mini-dorm problem; 23 percent of the returned surveys reported a mini-dorm problem. 3 Of the surveys reporting a mini-dorm problem, 78 percent of these mini-dorms were identified as being occupied by tenants rather than owners. The reported problems included--in ranking order of frequency of complaints--parking; regular gathering place for many friends; number of people over age of 18 exceed number of bedrooms available; and lack of proper maintenance detracts from appearance of the neighborhood. Associated reported problems included noise, litter, property damage and traffic congestion.

In 1991, the City enacted Municipal Code section 101.0463. 4 The ordinance's stated The challenged ordinance regulates the number of persons over the age of 18 who may live in a non-owner-occupied residence in targeted areas. 5 That is, the ordinance limits the number of adult occupants of a rented one-family dwelling unit premised on the square footage of bedroom areas, the number and size of bathrooms, and the amount of off-street parking. 6

purpose is to address nuisance problems associated with non-owner occupied rentals--including overcrowding and inadequate living space, lack of on-site and public street parking, excessive noise, litter, and inadequate property maintenance which adversely affects the character of one-family residential zones.

As originally enacted in 1991, the square footage bedroom area requirements in the ordinance were more restrictive than statewide standards contained in the Uniform Housing Code. 7 Premised on a preemption holding in Briseno v. City of Santa Ana (1992) 6 Cal.App.4th 1378, 8 Cal.Rptr.2d 486, that the state had occupied the field of residential occupancy standards, the ordinance was amended in 1993 to conform with the room-size occupancy standards in the Uniform Housing Code. However, the amendment left untouched the ordinance's occupancy restrictions tied to the amount of bathroom and parking facilities.

The trial court granted CARLA's motion for summary judgment, striking down the ordinance on preemption and equal protection grounds. 8


By way of introduction, we present a summary of the plethora of statutes and regulatory codes which are pertinent to this case.

Health and Safety Code section 17922 9, subdivision (a) provides that: (1) building standards adopted by the Department of Housing and Community Development 10 Although the statutory language is not a model of clarity, for purposes of section 17922, the definition of "building standard" can be read to include any rule which regulates not only the construction or alteration of a building, but also the method of use of an existing building. (§§ 17920, 18909; see also § 17912.) 14

                pursuant to section 18935, et seq. 11  and (2) regulations contained in title 24 of the California Code of Regulations, 12 formerly California Administrative Code, shall impose substantially the same requirements as contained in the Uniform Housing Code. 13

The Department of Housing and Community Development's regulations (promulgated pursuant to § 18935 et seq.) are contained in title 25 of the California Code of Regulations. Section 32 of title 25 contains a section pertaining to existing buildings, indicating that the provisions of the Uniform Housing Code apply to existing buildings. (Cal.Code Regs., tit. 25, § 32; 15 see Briseno v. City of Santa Ana, supra, 6 Cal.App.4th at p. 1382, 8 Cal.Rptr.2d 486 [state statutory scheme indicates that Uniform Housing Code governs occupancy standards].)

Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations centralizes the regulations governing building standards. (See ante., fn. 12.) Like title 25, title 24 contains provisions referring to existing buildings. Title 24 states that every building, whether existing or hereafter erected, shall be classified according to the character of its occupancy. (Cal.Code Regs., tit. 24, § 301.) Further, title 24 states that its provisions apply to the construction and occupancy and maintenance of one-family dwellings (Cal.Code Regs., tit. 24, § 331.2), and that its purposes include ensuring the safety of the public and of the occupants of the dwellings (Cal.Code Regs., tit. 24, § 331.1).

As indicated above, the Uniform Housing Code is the code which section 17922 instructs should be used in the regulations promulgated by the Department of Housing and Community Development (i.e., title 25), and in the centralized regulations contained in title 24. The Uniform Housing Code is a code adopted by the International Conference of Building Officials. (See § 17922, subd. (a)(1).) Uniform Housing Code section 503.2, formerly section 503, subdivision (b) (Chapter 5) sets occupancy standards tied to room size. 16

Section 17958 provides that local governments may make changes in the uniform regulations adopted pursuant to section 17922, if the local governments follow certain procedures set forth in sections 17958.5 and 17958.7. 17 That is, section 17958.5 requires the local government to determine the changes "are reasonably necessary because of local climatic, geological, or topographical conditions." 18 Section 17958.7 requires the local government to make an express finding that such changes are reasonably necessary, which finding shall be available as a public record and filed with the Department of Housing and Community Development. 19

                (See ABS INSTITUTE V. CITY OF LANCASTER (1994) 24 CAL.APP.4TH 285, 288, 29 CAL.RPTR.2D 224.)   20

In addition to these provisions governing the procedure by which local governments may deviate from the uniform standards, the Health and Safety Code contains a provision acknowledging the local government's zoning power. That is, section 17922, subdivision (b), states that except as provided in section 17959.5, local use zone requirements are reserved to the local jurisdictions notwithstanding any requirements set forth in this part of the HEALTH AND SAFETY CODE. SECTION 17959.521 confers power upon the housing appeals board (in addition to the variance power of other local governmental agencies), to grant variances from local use zone requirements in order to permit an owner-occupant of a dwelling to construct an addition to meet occupancy standards relating the number of persons in a household to the number of rooms or bedrooms. 22


Although we are sympathetic to the City's attempt to respond to problems associated with overcrowding in certain single-family residential neighborhoods, we agree with CARLA and amicus curiae American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that the instant ordinance violates California Equal Protection principles, to the extent it differentiates between owner-versus non-owner-occupied residences. Although equal protection does not demand that a statute apply equally to all persons, it does require that persons similarly situated with respect to the legitimate purpose of the law receive like treatment. (In re Antazo (1970) 3 Cal.3d 100, 110, 89 Cal.Rptr. 255, 473 P.2d 999; Elysium Institute, Inc. v. County of Los Angeles (1991) 232 Cal.App.3d 408, 427, 283 Cal.Rptr. 688.) If a statute is found to discriminate between similarly situated persons, the classification (in ordinary cases) must bear a rational relationship to a legitimate state purpose, or (in cases involving suspect classes or...

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