Why can’t we all just get along?
For the umpteenth straight year, CSU students and Fort Collins
residents are gathering at the generation gap’s widest point to
kick, scream and point fingers at the other side. The perennial
battle over a city ordinance barring more than three-unrelated
persons from living together is under way once again.
The latest chapter in this saga is a proposal to require those
who own and rent out residential property in Fort Collins to be
licensed by the city. Because I happen to be one of those freaks
that find the intricacies of local government interesting, I
decided to look into the proposal after reading about it in
What I discovered is that this proposal would actually help the
plight of the student tenant. Furthermore, this proposal, if
properly drafted, could solve for the city the decades-long dispute
over the well-intentioned, but largely unenforceable
The ordinance has been on the books in Fort Collins since the
1960s. Landlords seeking to fill their rental properties have been
ignoring the three-unrelated person clause since, well, the 1960s.
Since owning and leasing a rental property is largely a private
matter, the city has difficulty enforcing the code, and landlords
can easily deny having a hand in any infraction.
The three-unrelated ordinance is intended to keep population
densities low in areas zoned as low density, such as single-family
neighborhoods. This is a justifiable aim of the city on behalf of
the citizens seeking to live in a low-density area.
The ordinance’s main flaw is that it also applies to residences
in areas zoned as medium- and high-density, such as the
neighborhoods immediately north and east of campus. Occupied almost
exclusively by students already living four or more to a residence
and uninhibited by the presence of so many neighbors, these areas
have never abided by the ordinance and are now largely overlooked
In addition, because of the deregulated nature of private
housing agreements in the city, many of the houses in this area
occupied by students are in a state of disrepair and are fire
and/or health hazards, yet because of the location their rent is
Rental licensing will force landlords to keep their rentals up
to code, making them safer places to live.
Opponents of rental licensing, mainly students, claim that the
cost of these repairs will be levied upon the tenants, making
living in a prime location even more expensive. This is only a
half-truth. According to the federal office of Housing and Urban
Development, the renter vacancy rate in Fort Collins at the
beginning of 2004 was 13.9 percent. In short, it’s a renter’s
Because rental licensing would hold property owners more
accountable for the condition of their rentals and for their
leasing methods, the practice would benefit both the tenant and the
neighborhood. In order for the new law to be effective, however,
the three-unrelated ordinance must be altered.
Areas populated by large numbers of students, such as the
medium- and high-density zones near campus, as well as pockets of
low-density neighborhood west of campus, should be exempted from
the three-unrelated ordinance under the new proposal. Yes, much to
the chagrin of a few homeowners, this will effectively turn these
areas into a student ghetto of sorts.
But doing so will accomplish two main objectives and solve the
now age-old dispute between transient student renters and more
permanent neighbors. First, the two opposing sides will not be
forced to live among each other. Second, if students do choose to
live among older members of the community or vice-versa, the
municipal statutes can be enforced free of hypocrisy.
The City Council, by way of this new proposal, has an
opportunity to settle the long-standing grudge held between the
students and the residents of Fort Collins. While it is impossible
to please everyone, adopting a practice of rental licensing and
amending the three-unrelated clause would be a solution all of Fort
Collins could live with.
Joe Marshall is a senior history major. His column runs on