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Archive for Friday, April 6, 2001

College towns differ in home rental policies

April 6, 2001

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University students didn't want to live on campus, so they rented houses with four, five or six friends in single-family residential neighborhoods.

Longtime residents of the neighborhoods got fed up with the loud noises and late-night parties of their young neighbors and asked the city government to do something about it.

And the government obliged, passing an ordinance limiting the number of unrelated people who could live together in a single-family neighborhood.

Lawrence in 2001? Try Columbia, Mo., in 1991.

Columbia is home to the University of Missouri one of Kansas University's biggest rivals. But the Tigers were first down this road, limiting single-family homes to three unrelated people in 1991.

So the question is: Is it working in Columbia?

"Yes and no," said John Fleck, a senior planner with the city of Columbia.

Yes, Fleck said, because students moved out of the single-family neighborhoods. No, because it probably would have happened anyway.

A familiar battle

At the same time Columbia was passing its ordinance, Fleck said, developers were building a crop of duplexes to attract university students and the students followed.

"I think a lot of the market went there, so the pressure was taken off single-family homes," Fleck said. "The duplexes were working."

Officials in other college towns across the Midwest have faced complaints from longtime residents when students moved into old neighborhoods, but they've taken different approaches. It hasn't always been easy.

Even in Wildcat country

Manhattan is home to Kansas State University. The city allows four unrelated people to live together in single-family neighborhoods. And there are problems with students.

"Someone unfamiliar with home ownership and just having left home can't appreciate what an owner wants from their neighborhood," said Richard Faulkner, zoning inspector for Manhattan. "We've had people complain the city shouldn't rent homes."

More mixed results

Like Columbia, the cities of Lincoln, Neb., and Boulder, Colo. home to the universities of Nebraska and Colorado also have limited the number of unrelated people living together to three. They've had mixed results.

Boulder enacted its ordinance in the late 1990s, and enforcement problems still abound.

Jim Gery, a project specialist there, said that often, landlords simply don't report their rental properties to the city, and they allow groups of students to live in the homes in violation of the law.

"That's a pretty sizable problem," Gery said. Still, he thinks the law is a good idea.

"You need to have some controls when people are crammed into one place, or you can have problems with life, health and safety," he said.

In Lincoln, the ordinance went into effect in 1979. Jim Boise, chief housing inspector for that city, said any early difficulties with its implementation are long forgotten.

Boise said his department enforces the ordinance only a few times a year.

"Our perspective is that it's difficult to enforce," Boise said. "You have to determine relationships and who is actually occupying the home."

But neighborhood residents use the ordinance as a tool, he said, often videotaping comings and goings at homes to prove their complaints about homes with too many people, he said.

"It has pretty good support from the neighborhoods," Boise said. "It's working."

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