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.

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.”