Many CSU students live in a house occupied by more than three people – and many of these students do not know they may be breaking the law.
The three-unrelated law in question was discussed at Tuesday night’s Fort Collins City Council meeting. The council gave tentative approval to change the three-unrelated law from a criminal to a civil offense, a transition that would make violations easier to prosecute.
“It would change the burden of proof so that different kinds of things could be used as proof that can’t be used now,” said Tess Heffernan, a policy and projects manager in the City Manager’s Office.
Heffernan said the majority of the council supported the shift from criminal to civil prosecution and viewed the change as a step toward enforcing the often-ignored law.
“The thought in city council is: ‘Don’t have a law on the books that you can’t enforce,'” Heffernan said. “A majority of council members were in favor of (the change) and finding a way of keeping it on the books and finding a way to enforce it.”
The council is considering possible exemptions for houses deemed capable of adequately housing more than three individuals, Heffernan said, although the terms and qualifications for exemptions have not been determined.
Members of the Rolland Moore West Neighborhood Network, who have addressed City Council on occupancy and nuisance issues in the past, said they were pleased by the council’s decision.
“I think it’s a very good thing,” said Rolland Moore member Melisse Anderson. “They’re going to change it so it’s enforceable. The three-unrelated (law) is a good way to go.”
The council’s decision, came less than a week after the Associated Students of CSU unanimously approved legislation asking the council to remove the three-unrelated law from city code.
Courtney Stephens, ASCSU’s director of community affairs, called the board’s decision “a plus/minus situation.”
“The plus is that, of course, students aren’t going to get criminal charges,” Stephens said. She is concerned, however, that the lowered standards of proof for three-unrelated law violations will affect a larger number of students.
Stephens believes that the three-unrelated law targets students, who are more likely than other Fort Collins residents to be sharing a residence with three or more roommates. Some students share her view.
“Obviously they’re just discriminating against college students,” said Greg Weik, a senior business marketing major.
Weik shared a house with five roommates last year and now lives with his girlfriend. He said the idea that more than three unrelated people sharing a house cause nuisance problems seems unscientific.
“I want to see the hard evidence of that before they pass (the law),” Weik said.
Junior marketing major Elizabeth Albrecht agreed.
“I’m sure there’s houses with five people in them and nobody knows, because they follow all the rules,” she said.
Marv Paule, another member of Rolland Moore, said the law’s primary focus is overcrowding, not nuisance problems, which are addressed by separate city ordinances.
“It’s a matter of density,” he said. “Normal families do not have six people in the house who are driving automobiles. So there’s a parking problem – there’s not adequate parking.”
“When you have fewer people, you have fewer cars (and) less congestion in the neighborhood,” she said.
Paule said that while other ordinances focus on specific nuisance issues, rental properties with unlisted landlords make complaints difficult to address.
Albrecht said the three-person limit seemed like a waste of real estate.
“Most houses in my neighborhood have more than three bedrooms, so it seems like a waste of space,” she said.
Realtor Anthony Smith said the law was impractical, considering the type of rental properties available in Fort Collins.
“If anything, the average home in Fort Collins is a four-bedroom house and can adequately support four people,” he said.
Smith also said the law could create a problematic higher demand for housing, since fewer people would be able to live in each house.
“Let’s say you have three houses with four people in them, and the police come through and kick one out (of each house),” Smith said. “Now you have three people that need a place to live. You’re going to have to have them put somewhere.”