Archive for Thursday, July 7, 2011

Fraternity housing plan likely runs afoul of city code

The Kansas University chapter of Phi Kappa Tau fraternity is looking to move into two houses next to each other in the 1700 block of Louisiana Street.

The Kansas University chapter of Phi Kappa Tau fraternity is looking to move into two houses next to each other in the 1700 block of Louisiana Street.

July 7, 2011


A new housing arrangement for members of Phi Kappa Tau fraternity’s Kansas University chapter could place them in violation of city occupancy codes.

After the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority’s international organization bought the fraternity’s house at 1100 Ind. earlier this summer, members of Phi Kappa Tau decided to move into two six-bedroom homes that are side-by-side at 1732 and 1736 La., fraternity leaders said.

Riley Dunn, who served as president of the fraternity last year, initially said that the fraternity planned to have six people occupying each house.

In a subsequent phone conversation later in the day, Dunn said that he misspoke earlier and said that no more than three people would be living in the houses to ensure compliance with the law.

The owner of the properties, Serina Hearn and her company Rainbow Works LLC did not return phone calls for comment on this story.

She has told the Journal-World in the past that the property at 1736 La. should have grandfathered status because its two kitchens have made it a duplex in a single-family zoning district.

The city disagrees.

“Our position has always been that these are single-family residences, and, therefore, the guidelines apply,” said Brian Jimenez, city code enforcement manager.

But Jimenez said it was likely that the fraternity didn’t know the city’s stance on the issue. The city has dealt with issues with the owner of the properties in the past.

“I doubt (the fraternity members) even have an idea what the single-family occupancy limits are,” Jimenez said. “I think it’s fair to say we went down this road before, and there will be a different plan of action when the violation occurs.”

Jimenez said, after reading about the fraternity’s situation in Heard on The Hill, the city intended to meet with fraternity members before they moved in.

“We’ll take some action rather than waiting for the violation to occur,” he said.

The property at 1736 La. was featured in a Journal-World story about lax enforcement of city codes earlier, when a previous tenant was involved in a dispute with Hearn over a security deposit that wasn’t returned. The tenant then brought forth evidence that six people were living in the house in 2009.

Jimenez said a new plan for how to deal with enforcement of these kinds of issues would be brought before the City Commission soon.

The city can bring cases to Municipal Court and seek fines of up to $500, but it has rarely done so in the past.

Owners are typically the ones held responsible for enforcing the ordinance. City leaders are looking at improving compliance by stiffening the penalties for repeat offenders, and requiring that owners sign a form where they acknowledge and ensure compliance with occupancy limits, with consequences for violations.

“There are some processes in the rental licensing ordinance that we haven’t actively pursued before, and we’re looking at them now,” Jimenez said. “We will most likely be doing things differently on these in the very near future. And August is in the very near future.”


2GenLtown 6 years, 10 months ago

Let the people live. Spend more time cracking down on those commiting actual crimes (against property or personal) and let these good intending college students live. If one of these kids commits a legit crime - run him out of town or throw him in the slammer. Until then, let's live and let live.

We spend too much time worried about worthless **** like this and not enough wondering just how much radiation is blowing across Kansas on a daily basis. Think - Japan. Earthquake. Nuke. Jet stream.

Does anyone at the LJW have a Geiger counter and dare to step out to Salina and give us a reading?

gphawk89 6 years, 10 months ago

Agree - at least with the first 1.3 paragraphs... I don't see any problem letting three (or more) college kids live together as long as they're well-behaved. I shared a significantly smaller house with four other guys and it was never a problem.

Lawrence has to realize what it is - a college town - and adjust accordingly. What would Lawrence be without the university, it's students and teachers, and the money they spend?

pace 6 years, 10 months ago

I suggest the city enforce codes and investigate code violations and the police investigate crimes. Two different elephants. I think the occupancy code is too restrictive and should be 4 unrelated persons. IIMO the police should have a task force on theft and burglary.

LadyJ 6 years, 10 months ago

Totally agree with 4 unrelated people. Did notice those two houses are huge, maybe square footage should figure in somehow.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 10 months ago

There is likely a blatant attempt to flout the law by Hearn, but these houses have been thoroughly renovated, so likely not a deathtrap, nor a typical slumlord situation.

Matt Schwartz 6 years, 10 months ago

“We will most likely be doing things differently on these in the very near future. And August is in the very near future.” .....followed by,' booha ha ha....and we would've gotten away with it, if it wasn't for that pesky Jiminez.'

Vinny1 6 years, 10 months ago

There is hundreds of houses down there in the "student ghetto" on Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana, etc. Nearly all the houses are 4, 5, 6 or even more bedrooms.

If the city really does crackdown and not let students live there there, all those houses will sit vacant and that entire part of the city will be up for sale with no one living there. Thats got to be really good for the city!

EarthaKitt 6 years, 10 months ago

This is the kind of thinking that leads to the "student slum" problem. It's also a strategy employed by some of these landlords to force the city into allowing tear-downs and renovations that are detrimental to what used to be and still could be a nice town/gown neighborhood. No one has said the city doesn't want students living in these houses, they're simply working with neighborhoods to try to preserve quality of life in those areas.

Vinny1 6 years, 10 months ago

Its obvious the city doesn't want students living here if they actually enforce this rule.

These houses are huge. Rent is high. To be able to pay for them, let alone fill the house you need more than 3 people.

Heck most families couldn't fill or afford these gigantic old houses.

jafs 6 years, 10 months ago

If the landlords can't rent to as many people, they'll have to lower the rents in order to find good tenants.

gatekeeper 6 years, 10 months ago

Keep in mind - many of these houses are split into apartments. Many others are being rented out room by room and the share the common areas.

Beth Ennis 6 years, 10 months ago

Lots of those houses are owned by Serina also. Their lawns are never mowed either. I live in that area of town and would love to see those houses go back to single family. We don't mind living by students. What we don't like is the fact that the landlords are taking all of this money from more folks than they should, and then they don't keep the property up. In this picture, these lawns were mowed. The house across from us that Serina and Tony own are NEVER mowed unless we make a complaint to the city, which I have to do every year. It gets old really fast. Again, it's not the student's fault, it's the landlords fault. The house across from us has at least 5 kids living in it if not more. There are at least 6-8 vehicles parked there over night, every night.

neversnowedin 6 years, 10 months ago

I hope my comment on yesterdays "Heard on the Hill" prompted this article.

neversnowedin 6 years, 10 months ago

"In a subsequent phone conversation later in the day, Dunn said that he misspoke earlier and said that no more than three people would be living in the houses to ensure compliance with the law"....

Surrrrrrre, 3 people living in each house... I guess they will just be using the other rooms in these 7 bedroom homes for beer pong and chapter meetings. I wonder if the $2850/month rent will get a little steep split by 3?

ahyland 6 years, 10 months ago

Happy to give credit where it's due, neversnowedin!

snitty 6 years, 10 months ago

Serina and Tony have done more than any other Lawrence landords to improve and restore the decaying old houses on the hill. Their many renovations have helped to stabilize the older neighborhoods and beautify the city. Many of those houses were built for more than three residents, and it seems wrong for the threes-a-crowd ordinance to be applied to them. The city should enforce standards for over-crowding only when there is a real case for it.

WilburM 6 years, 10 months ago

Horse-hockey. They are among the worst of the worst landlords, albeit that they fix up some of their properties. Want to get your deposit back? Good luck!

Casual905 6 years, 10 months ago

Vinny1 I doubt seriously these houses will sit vacant. The owners will just not be able to practically stuff students into closets and call them bedrooms. These houses were built for single families. Many of them are death traps. No smoke detectors, over taxed electrical systems, old wood framed houses packed with crap that go up in flames in a seconds not giving these kids a fair chance to get out. It will take a death or serious injury before these greedy landlords figure it out. Not to mention all parking and noise. It comes down to the almighty dollar over kids safety. I support the city ordinance.

Vinny1 6 years, 10 months ago

Its not the owners that stuff students into closets and call them bedrooms.

Its the student tenants that do it. They are the ones that want to live there. They are the ones that want to live super cheap. They are the ones that pack the houses with trash and fail to clean stuff up.

neversnowedin 6 years, 10 months ago

Ya its the students fault for sure! It definitely isnt the fault of the slumlord who buys a house in a single family residential zoning district with the full intent of exploiting college students who are ignorant to the fact. I know, freshman should be well versed in city code before moving to Lawrence but im guessing they didnt take the time.

She buys these homes because other landlords wont.. because they obey the regulations. She plays the numbers and knows that she will just get a slap on the wrist if shes ever caught.

Vinny1 6 years, 10 months ago

Yes, many of these houses were built for single families. Back when a single family was larger than it is today. Not to mention many families back then had live-in grandparents and children would live at home far longer.

Most of these houses wouldn't struggle big time to sell to a single family these days.

TheTalker 6 years, 10 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

classclown 6 years, 10 months ago

Someone help me out here as far as the greedy landlord comments go. I have no idea what rents are, so for the sake of convenience, I'll keep the dollar amounts simple.

Let's say I have a house to rent and the rent is $600. What difference should it make if I get it from 3 people at $200 apiece or 6 people at $100 apiece? As long as I'm getting my $600 why should I care how many live there? So if the law states only 3 people can live there, what is my incentive to want to allow more to do so?

Or is this a case where I'm able to charge by the head, say $200 per student so renting to 6 people allows me to collect twice as much rent then I would be able to by only renting to 3 people?

How exactly does this work?

jafs 6 years, 10 months ago

You answered your own question.

Landlords want to rent to 6 people paying $200 each - they get twice as much rent that way.

Vinny1 6 years, 10 months ago

In the case of houses, not including the houses separated into individual "apartments" -

The rent is set for the property. Doesn't matter if 3 people or 8 people live there. The same total amount is paid to the landlord. Its just cheaper for the people leasing. Therefore you often see the students themselves converting large closets or extra living rooms into bedrooms to make the rent cheaper.

jafs 6 years, 10 months ago

That's simply not true - I see numerous ads for housing with a "per bedroom" rental figure.

If they rent to 5 people, they get more than if they rent to 3 people.

neversnowedin 6 years, 10 months ago

Vinny is just on a rampage of misinformation.

Vinny1 6 years, 10 months ago

LOL I am not. Being a student now, with lots of friends that live in the area, and having looked at many many houses in the are I know how most of them are rented.

Most are still rented as an entire unit. One house. They advertise it as say "8 bedroom", but it doesn't matter if you want 3 people to live there or 10 people to live there, you're getting charged the same monthly rate.

neversnowedin 6 years, 10 months ago

Say you have a house that can fit 8 people and is advertised accordingly.. 8 people sign the lease.. and you decide that you want to have 4 more people stay there to make your rent cheaper.. If those extra people cant make rent, you and the other 7 will still be responsible for your "monthly rate".. any decent landlord, serena obviously not included, would not allow 20 people to sign a lease on 4 bedroom home.

What next? Chewbacca defense?

classclown 6 years, 10 months ago

Something else, not that this applies to me.

Say I own a 4 or 5 bedroom house and the kids have left the nest. We decide to take in boarders. With this law, does that mean we can only rent out 2 of the spare rooms?

Suppose I have a situation where I'm renting rooms to 2 other people and one of my kids ends up having to move back in for a time. Am I obligated to kick one of my boarders out to the street? If I have a lease with said boarder, can I? If I take my child back in without kicking out one of my boarders, does that make me a greedy landlord?

I understand the reason for this law's existence, however, like most things, it hardly seems like a black and white situation. Seems like there is an awful lot of gray area there.

jafs 6 years, 10 months ago

As a landlord, you can rent to 3 unrelated people, but no more, in a single family zoned neighborhood. I'm not sure whether your example fits that or not, if you're living in the house - you could probably rent to either 2 or 3 unrelated people.

Your child, being related to you, wouldn't factor into the equation.

Carol Bowen 6 years, 10 months ago

There is a provision for owner-occupied homes for this type of situation. If I remember correctly, the owner can apply to the city for some designation.

LogicMan 6 years, 10 months ago

With all the city's single-family residential growth to the west and elsewhere, these streets adjacent to the University should studied for rezoning to various grades of higher density with off-street parking. The kids have to live somewhere affordable, including the greeks. And we do want to encourage walking to classes, for improved health and sustainability, and for reduced vehicular congestion and pollution.

JerryK 6 years, 10 months ago

One of the reasons for this code is the negative impact it has on single family subdivisions. If you have a street full of rental houses, where more than 3 unrelated people are living, you end up with reduced property values. Additionally, you end up with your street lined with cars (much like Kentucky and Tennessee). When a young family moves to town and buys a single family zoned house, they should feel secure that they will not have 6 college kids on either side of them, crowding the street, coming and going at different hours than most of the neighborhood, and making it difficult for their kids to safely access the sidewalk and streets for things like riding your bike. I think it is reasonsonable for the city to enforce this code. If the house should be rezoned as multifamily or duplex, then that's the route that should be explored.

pizzapete 6 years, 10 months ago

Having so many people living in one house brings more trash, noise, and less parking to the area. If they tore the house down and built a ten story apartment building on the site, however, the city might look the other way.

With a $300,000 mortgage to pay the landlords need x amount of dollars to pay it off and make a profit. There is no way these properties (like most of downtown) would be profitable without charging too much for rent. The only way for student to afford these houses is if they have several roomates to share the cost.

I really do think this ordinance was enacted to help the large apartment developers get more renters for their properties. I know as a student I would rather live in an older house near the University instead of a new apartment half way to Topeka.

Carol Bowen 6 years, 10 months ago

One can drive down a street in our not-central-neighborhood and pick out the student rentals by the condition of the house and yard.

Potential businesses would certainly look at the stability of housing for their employees. Our open student housing can be a deterrent.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 10 months ago

Lack of enforcement and intentional violations by property owners = big problem.

Property owners know the "rules" .

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