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Rule changes on how many unrelated people can live in a house up for discussion at City Hall


Tonight is one of those nights at Lawrence City Hall where people may come to appreciate the importance of technicalities.

There’s an item on the City Commission’s agenda that looks pretty technical because it involves a lot of language about development codes, definitions and other terms of art that make the hearts of city planners everywhere swoon.

There’s no denying there is plenty of technical stuff to wade through here, but really, city commissioners will be talking about an issue that often pits neighborhoods against landlords: How many people can live in a house in Lawrence?

The general rule for several years now has been that no more than three unrelated people can live in a single-family home, and no more than four unrelated people can live in a multifamily apartment and such.

But the key word in the phrase “general rule” is “general.” As the mayor recently found out, there are plenty of neighborhoods in Lawrence where more than three unrelated people can legally live in a single family home or duplex.

That’s because there are plenty of single-family homes or duplexes that are built on land not zoned for single-family or duplex construction.

In very simple form, the City Commission tonight will consider new rules that will take about 3,000 of those homes that currently can legally have four unrelated people living in them and reduce that number to no more than three unrelated people in them.

If approved, landlords will soon find out how a technicality can technically hit them in the wallet.

On the flip side, neighbors may find out how a few word changes can help reduce issues of overcrowding in their neighborhoods.

Which neighborhoods are we talking about? Well, for one, the west Lawrence neighborhood the mayor lives in. He discovered the vagaries of the city code when he realized there were more than three unrelated people living in a home across the street from his house on St. Andrews Drive.

But you are perhaps looking for more specifics than that. So, grab some toothpicks and prop those eyelids open. We are about to discuss the not-so-exciting world of zoning.

If you live in a neighborhood that falls into what I call the category of ‘P’ zoning, you will want to pay attention. (Gentlemen, you also don’t want to get confused about what rights ‘P’ zoning gives when you are faced with a full bladder and a long line at the restroom. It is not a defense that holds up in court.)

What I call P zoning are categories the city calls Planned Unit Developments, Planned Residential Developments, Planned Commercial Developments, Planned Industrial Developments and Planned Office Developments. Those are all specific zoning types in the city, and all of them technically allow for some residential development to occur.

The way the city code is written currently, any residential development in those P zoning categories can have up to four unrelated people. This gets confusing to neighbors because the houses often look like any other single-family house or duplex in the city, which are limited to three unrelated people. But it is the zoning of the land that dictates the rules that the house must follow.

The rule change up for discussion at tonight’s meeting would make it clear that single-family homes and duplexes in those P zoning categories would be limited to no more than three unrelated people.

A new city report estimates there are about 2,700 such homes in the P zoning districts that would be affected by the change. How many of them are rentals isn’t known, but I suspect the number is fairly large.

A few other zoning categories also would be affected. They include commercial and industrially zoned properties, which occasionally have homes built on them.

One category that is not included is the RM district, which is a type of multifamily zoning category. There are single-family style homes and duplexes built on that type of zoning, however. The Oread neighborhood is a good example of an area that has several homes that are on RM zoned property.

City staff members are not proposing that homes with RM zoning be included in the rule change. But a few residents of the Oread neighborhood are asking the City Commission to consider such a change. That would be a big one. The city estimates there are about another 4,000 units that may be affected by the rule change, if the RM district were included.

The discussion tonight is just the beginning of the process. If the city decides to move forward the Planning Commission will also have to debate the item. But if you are a landlord or a resident who lives in an area with a lot of rentals, it might be a debate worth watching. The City Commission meets at 6:35 p.m. today at City Hall. You’ll have to bring your own toothpicks, though.


time2kill 5 years, 3 months ago

Technicalities cut both ways. I'd gladly trade the dozen or so (apparently) related people living in the house across the street for four unrelated college kids.

HutchSaltHawk 5 years, 3 months ago

time2kill - four unrelated college kids live next to me and they party all night long without regard to the person trying to sleep 30 feet from their party zone. We wouldn't have a problem if folks would grow up and respect others.

buffalo63 5 years, 3 months ago

No! The house next door may be the only rental in the neighborhood, but if rented to college students, the parties may become a problem since most don't start until 11:30PM and go until 3 or 4 AM. That is what happened to us.

gccs14r 5 years, 3 months ago

When that happened to me, I just kept calling the cops until the landlord threw them out.

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 3 months ago

There is already a code prohibiting that in a Single Family neighborhood. Call the COPS!

Make more rules and laws doesn't solve the problem when the current rules and laws are not enforced.

pills4profit 5 years, 3 months ago

Why don't you just use the laws on the books and call the cops if there parties are sooooo loud.

Or you could try being a good neighbor and a reasonable human being and go talk to them...

OR you could act like a freaking childish loser and expect big gubment and big brudder to take care of everything....

kernal 5 years, 3 months ago

Then there are the residences that are still in Rural zoning within the city limits. Guess those five tenants renting the house down the street are good to stay for now. Besides, they're good neighbors.

Now just need to figure out if the R zoning supercedes a homeowners association's restriction on the size of a vegetable garden.

cantbelievemyeyes 5 years, 3 months ago

What about the Community Living Oppertunity houses strewn across the city? Are they exempt?

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 3 months ago

Funny how idiotic the Oread Residents are in pushing for the Oread to be included. They complain about Fritzels apartments being built on Indiana, and claim they want to preserve the neighborhood, but in reality by including RM in the "no more than 3" rule, they will cause more apartments to go up.

If a landlord has 4 bedroom house, getting $1600 a month in rent ($400 per bedroom), his house is worth about $160,000 to $180,000. Now if you reduce his occupants to 3, his rent is now $1200 a month and his house is worth $120,000 to $140,000. And now if this was a recently bought house, he would be upside down on his note with the bank if he put 20% down.

This not only affects the values of the surrounding houses, but also removes property tax dollars from the city.

So, what is the landlord to do? If they were planning on fixing up the house, that will not happen now because the rents will not support it, nor can he probably afford to. If they need to repaint the house, not going to happen. If they need to re-landscape the property, not going to happen. Bring the house up to current code, cost to much. Hand the house back to the bank... might happen. Demo by neglect... might happen. Or a developer like Fritzel will wait until he can pick up 4 houses in a row that are now in bad shape, demo them and build an apartment.

Good luck Oread Residents with your new mega apartment complexes that will be coming soon....

gccs14r 5 years, 3 months ago

The landlords charge $400 a head because they can, not because that's what it costs to break even.

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 3 months ago

Wrong. If you know of any 4 bedroom houses for sale in the Oread that are for sale for under $140,000, chances are the need to be completely torn down.

gccs14r 5 years, 3 months ago

Maybe the reason the prices are inflated is because of the artificial value tied to the high rents. Those houses wouldn't rent for $1600 a month if it weren't for students thinking that $400 each isn't bad.

jack22 5 years, 3 months ago

Squirrel, I think you're right. Your friends Compton and Fritzel benefit the most from this ordinance as it gives them an even greater number of tenents for their apartments who might otherwise have shared a house. This ordinance has in effect enabled them to continue building more apartments in the Oread and on the outskirts of the city. Of course they don't want college kids renting houses, they need to fill the expensive apartments they keep building. This is much like the noise ordinance that Compton pushed through that virtually shut down house parties where students could have a cheap night out drinking or seeing a band at a house in the Oread. The noise ordinance benefited these developers, too, because now kids can't have house parties and instead have to waste their money going to one of the clubs like the Cave, Abe & Jakes, or some other place owned by them. This latest ordinance may look beneficial to the community, but the fact is it's the developers who own the big apartment buildings that benefit most from its passage. It's the small property owners in this town who have to deal with the added red tape and take the greatest hit to their pocketbook. The small property owners affected by this ordinance don't have the money or influence to get the tax payers of the city to help them build new high rise apartment buildings. We need to level the playing field again and allow students to have some fun and save some money, too.

mother_gma 5 years, 3 months ago

It seems interesting that most would assume this will financially impact the landlord if the zoning is changed from 4 unrelated people to 3. That very well might not be the case -- my guess, it will be the struggling renter / college students who will take the biggest financial hit. If the current rent is 1600 / month divided by 4 people, and this property falls within the re-zoning regulation, then what could happen is that suddenly 1 of those 4 people must find new living arrangements, perhaps can't afford more, what about his/her portion of the security deposit...? And the rent could very well stay at $1600 /month, now divided by 3 tenants ! Needless to say, that means their rent just went up and what happens to them if they can't afford that increase? So much for any compassion and understanding, especially when profit is the bottom line. I will concede that there are inconsiderate neighbors, but this is not a perfect world, society or community. Perfect is something dreamed of, not necessarily a reality. Make the best of what you have and be happy.

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 3 months ago

Good point. And lets say the Landlord increases the rent, that in turn will cause the Oread to become either a more exclusive neighborhood that only rich kids can live in, or it will cause more houses to be empty, and more students to go further from campus renting the mega apartment complexes outside of town.

None of these seem like good options for students.

irvan moore 5 years, 3 months ago

so if a problem impacts the mayor it gets action

melott 5 years, 3 months ago

Not to worry. They can't enforce the rule in neighborhoods where 3 is the limit.

Jeanne Cunningham 5 years, 3 months ago

Wouldn't it make more sense for the limit to be related to (1) the number of bedrooms/bathrooms and (2) the # of available parking spaces/tenants with vehicles?

Bob Forer 5 years, 3 months ago

I understand the ostensible rationale behind the rule--that in a college town, four or more unrelated people living together have a greater propensity to disturb the peace and quiet of a residential neighborhood. Even though the rational basis for the rule is suspect, aren't there laws already on the books that prohibit unruly behavior? The city is walking a fine line on the right of freedom of association. Can't the same purpose be accomplished without implicating individual freedom?

buffalo63 5 years, 3 months ago

But laws are only as good as the enforcement, which sometimes lack teeth and/or will.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

Parking is the problem here as well.

FYI- This Tuesday the CC is considering the occupancy in transitional zoned neighborhoods (PU and duplex). This amendment is intended to reduce the # of unrelated that can occupy a rental unit-from 4 -to 3. However, some duplex zoned areas close to high density areas will not get the same reduction. I think this is a problem. Duplex zoning is lower density zoning.

This still doesn't address duplex problems city-wide.

Duplex zoning has become a means to add more density without providing needed parking. Do duplexes no longer serve the community in a positive manner or function as was originally intended?

Most of us recall two BR duplexes that were considered family oriented not student rentals with 4 BR's on each side(8BR's in monster size units). If you consider doubling up in BR's, this could be an amazing number of individuals with cars living close to you.

This item is item #3 on the city's agenda. Check the city web page, CC, click agenda, click item 3, and click on staff memo.

You may want to consider coming to the CC meeting as it may impact your neighborhood. All neighborhoods is more like it.

Residents who have watched the rise in over-size duplex rental units continue to be concerned about their proliferation city-wide.

The lower parking standard for duplexes provides an incentive to build such units - more renters, less parking required. Ex: A duplex with 4 BR on each side = 8 BR and provides only about 4 parking spaces, as cars can be stacked in driveways and garages.

Duplexes are no longer "family units" but small apartment complexes. “Families” also live in apartment complexes. The consequence of this parking exception results in cars spilling out into the street, taking up nearly all on-street parking.

Sidewalks here are especially important for pedestrians. The impact on neighborhoods throughout the city is unsightly and often leads to the physical deterioration of the area. We believe that duplexes should have the same parking standard as all other city rental units- one space per bedroom.

RM12D zoned areas should also be changed to the 3 unrelated rule not 4 as proposed by city staff.

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 3 months ago

So anyone who bought a 4 bedroom duplex as an investment, is now SOL, and can only have 3 people living in it? And now they have lost the value of that other bedroom? Tell me how that is fair? It would be one thing if they bought it knowing it couldn't have 4 unrelated occupants, but to have the city continue to change the rules on investments that are some peoples life savings or retirement fund is not right.

Maybe we should tell Mayor Schumm that he can no longer sell booze downtown because there have been alcohol related problems with some of the other businesses downtown. Instead of going after the offender, just make a blanket rule that no booze downtown (but because we are nice he can still have food). See how he likes that....

MarcoPogo 5 years, 3 months ago

"no booze downtown"

Now hold on there for one second, Bubba. You can go after Bob's fries but let's leave the drinks out of this...

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

As Lawrence continues its' hope of becoming a town of 250,000 population sooner rather than later.

Actually it mostly those connected to real estate development who want Lawrence to be a town of 250,000 people. Trafficway becomes obsolete..... then again it was obsolete from day one. More and more tax dollars to deal with traffic.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

I keep asking is there a market? Shouldn't there be a mandate as to how many cars per rental unit? 8 cars per driveway hmmmmmmm doesn't really make sense nor do the 8 bedrooms per duplex.

This could be coming to YOUR neighborhood maybe next door.

Are older rental properties becoming neighborhood slums? My best guess is the CC wouldn't know. If so how is this being addressed?

Do neighborhoods need to consider pushing the "Demolition by Neglect" button? with some degree of frequency to protect property values?

There are close to 21,000 rental units in Lawrence,kansas which is an estimated 58% of residential. Why would another home improvement center want to locate here?

Eugehne Normandin 5 years, 3 months ago

Bad neighbors have nothing to do with unrelated tenants

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

If the bad neighbors are unrelated and living together then yes unrelated tenants being bad neighbors is a problem.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

If a fire takes place the fire department is going to have a helluva time working around wall to wall cars. So much in fact I would think the insurance industry might have something to say about that.

If that were my home I would take the property owners to court and sue them till the cows come home for being knowingly and willfully negligent.

Shane Powers 5 years, 3 months ago

lol "Sidewalks here are especially important to pedestrians" -Merrill

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

If cars are parked on sidewalks thus blocking pedestrians ...........

juma 5 years, 3 months ago

jack22 got it right! This whole scam is to help fill all the empty apts owned by the guys who pull the strings. I for one will vote against every commissioner that is now in office. Enough is Enough!!!

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 3 months ago

Funny thing is the idiotic old ladies who live in the Oread and think this is going to stop the boarding houses and bring back single family homes, are going to one day wake up to a bunch of apartment buildings next door and wonder what the heck happened.

Instead of preserving houses, it is only going to casue more demo by neglect.

Patriot2 5 years, 3 months ago

Now if this will have any effect on the 50ish couple who live across the street, I'm all for it! They moved in a couple of years go and the parties started. He fancies himself as a musician and blasts away on his keyboards all hours of the night. The first couple of years their front door should have had a turn-stile installed, there were so many people coming and going. We didn't know who was living there and who was visiting. Different cars parked in the street infront of neighbors houses all the time, they thought they owned the streets. Then they had this "couple" living there for about a year. One rode a bike around the neighborhood all the time, we ere afraid to allow our children outside, he was creepy. The "couple" hung out in the back yard smoking pot all the time. And the yelling and cussing! We'd hear them yelling at the lady and her pleading with them to stop, and this would be until the early hours of the morning. It apeared the lady was the only one working. She'd leave early in the morning and return early in the evening. The guys would stagger out about noon and return a couple hours later all carrying beer. We'll take the college kids in our neighborhood anytime!

been_there 5 years, 3 months ago

I have always thought it should be 4 unrelated people instead of three if space allowed. I have a very large 4 bedroom that I can only rent to 3 people. I have to keep the rent at $750 so they can afford the utilities. I have private parking for 5 cars. My house is one of the quietest on the block. Meanwhile across the street is a small house owned by a known slum lord that he got grandfathered in so he does not have to have it inspected. He has chopped it up into 4 units and gets $450 to $500 apiece. That is at least $1800 a month. It is a death trap and would never pass a licensing inspection. There are sometimes 10 people living there and they cause no end of trouble in the neighborhood and the city cannot/will not do anything. This is not fair. I also cannot rent out to an unmarried couple with more than one child. If theiy are doing some changing, they need to make it fair to all landlords.

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