This community opinion was contributed by Hollister Councilman Marty Richman. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors.
You can’t seem to get into any face-to-face conversation about population growth in Hollister for long before someone brings up the issue of illegal occupancy. If you believe the stories and anecdotal evidence, illegally renting garages, tool sheds, secondary buildings and converting homes into what amounts to boarding houses has become a local cottage industry.
“Illegal units are dwellings that do not have the required Certificate of Occupancy, which is a document that certifies that a residential building complies with all state and local building codes and is safe to live in,” said Tobener Ravenscroft LLP. An illegal unit can also be one used inappropriately.
There is almost no reliable information as to the size and scope of the local problem, but in most cases where there is smoke there is fire and there is a lot of smoke. I call it the worst kept secret in Hollister.
One reason there is a dearth of data is that most politicians don’t want to know the answer. If they were faced with the facts, they might be forced to do something that’s sure to lose them votes. As bad as illegal garage occupancies may be, throwing families into the street is going to look a lot worse on the 5 o’clock news.
Do I believe the problem is large? Yes, I do because the chance to make significant money off the books is a great motivator for many. A simple example would be a four-bedroom home renting out three to a bedroom for $425 per month. That’s crowded, but it’s also $5,100 a month which would cover a hell of a mortgage with lots left over.
Illegal occupancy may be one reason, along with larger family units, that school enrollment and housing increases do not seem to line up.
This problem is not confined to poor areas. Illegal occupancies and unauthorized uses, especially as short-term vacation rentals, have plagued some of the most desirable, and expensive, areas in the state.
Since this situation suits both parties, the “landlord” and the renter, they both have an incentive to cover it up. The loser is the public purse which provides services without getting the taxes and fees designed to offset the cost for those services and the health and safety of the renters.
Illegal occupancies are taking money out of the pockets of those who are not participating in this scheme and they can severely reduce the neighborhood property values.
Worst of all is that these arrangements are notoriously unsafe, in many cases that is exactly why they do not have permits. Unfortunately, it’s only after a tragedy that we hear insincere statements from the intentionally blind such as, “Who knew?” We all knew and we need to get a handle on this problem before a tragedy occurs, not after.