A real estate broker and a property owner have been found guilty of violating a San Diego city ordinance that cracks down on mini-dorms, privately owned homes rented out to college students. The recent case sheds light again on a recurring issue around the San Diego State University campus that has gone on for decades.
Keith Henderson, the broker, and Shawn Ann Sullivan, the owner, pleaded guilty in San Diego Superior Court last month to maintaining a single-family home occupied by six or more adults without getting a required high-occupancy permit. The property in question, near Montezuma Road and 55th Street, housed six SDSU students during the school year, city officials said.
Henderson, who served as a property manager, and Sullivan operate other mini-dorms around campus. As part of court terms, Henderson needs to bring all properties he manages up to code by mid-July, said Jon Dwyer, the deputy city attorney in the case. Mini-dorms are privately owned homes that are rented out to students and are often modified to fit more people. For decades, residents have complained that these properties have brought about parking and noise issues to the College area.
“It continues to be an issue in the (San Diego) State area,” Dwyer said. “And it’s a real safety concern for the students when it comes to the overcrowding issue … with improper exits and entrances.”
Henderson, the real estate agent, pleaded guilty to one count of maintaining a structure without a required building permit, one count of unlawfully reducing off-street parking and one count of maintaining a single-family home occupied by six or more adults without obtaining the required permit. Henderson is required to pay a $3,000 fine, $4,912.79 in investigative costs, and serve 30 days of public work service, the city attorney’s office said. He also has to complete a three-hour ethics course for property managers.
Sullivan, who could not be reached for comment, pleaded guilty to one count of maintaining a single-family home occupied by six or more adults without obtaining the required permit. She is required to pay the city of San Diego more than $3,154.71 in investigative costs, court records show.
Henderson said he’s made an honest business for the past five years selling and managing College real estate to everyone from investors to students’ parents. He said he has shut down his property management business and is working to make sure all the properties he oversees meet city code.
“We buy them, change them, … and the homes are nice,” Henderson said. “…We’ve fixed up the worst homes and spent a lot of money doing it.”
The city of San Diego ordinance that requires landlords to obtainresidential high-occupancy permits for homes with six or more adults has been active since 2008. But Henderson said he’s noticed city officials increasing enforcement since the fall.
The Henderson-Sullivan case is among roughly 30-plus similar cases that have been opened in the College area since the fall, city records show. More than a dozen of those homes have been brought to compliance, some homeowners have been fined and a few violations have been sent to the city attorney’s office, based on a U-T San Diego review of code-compliance records.
In one case, a city inspector found eight students living in what’s listed online as a three-bedroom home on Mary Lane Drive near Montezuma Road. The garage was illegally converted into a studio, and illegal walls were erected without permits, based on city notes.
The city’s development services department, which handles such cases, did not answer repeated requests for an interview.
First-year SDSU students who are from outside the university’s local admission area are required to live on campus, said Darrell Hess, the university’s associate director of residential education. There are 19 subject-focused communities for first-year students that make up 3,300 spots. Thereafter, students can continue to live on campus at any of the 600 spots for returning and transfer students. Or they can be off-campus.
SDSU students find mini-dorms appealing because they offer freedom from on-campus supervision and tend to be affordable.
Nineteen-year-old Roko Skoblar paid $375 to live with seven other students in a property on Dorothy Way near Montezuma Road. That is, until a code enforcement officer came to inspect the home and found the garage had been illegally converted into living quarters that housed two people. The two tenants were given five days to move, Skoblar said.
“I feel like if you have a good living environment and you feel safe, it doesn’t matter how many people live in your house,” said Skoblar, who plans to live in an eight-person mini-dorm next school year.
SDSU officials do not have a list of approved off-campus housing, but it’s something the school is working on, Hess said. Until then, Hess advises students and parents to ask landlords for references and meet property managers face-to-face before signing leases.
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