Jan 232005
 
Authors: Lila Hickey

"Show your concern"

Attend City Council's study session

(This) Tuesday @ 6 p.m.

City Hall West, 300 Laporte Ave.

For Fort Collins residents, the debate over rental licensing is heated: In a survey of more than 1,000 respondents, 84 percent of homeowners supported rental licensing, while 83 percent of landlords and property managers opposed it.

Lloyd Walker, a member of the Rolland Moore West Neighborhood Network, a driving force behind the call for rental licensing, is in favor of the concept. Anthony Smith, a local realtor, worries new rental restrictions will leave potential renters without houses because of occupancy limits and the rent increases they may cause.

"(Rental licensing is) basically just going to happen," Smith said after an Oct. 12 study session where the Fort Collins City Council outlined a plan to deal with neighborhood problems. "I thought the council was more split on it."

Council member Karen Weitkunat shared his concern.

"I don't think all the information is in," she said. "We've jumped on the bandwagon, and let's get a solution before we even understand the problem."

But Courtney Stephens, director of community affairs for the Associated Students of CSU, said the vote may still be a close one. Weitkunat agreed.

"There is a definite division there," she said. "There's a couple people who really hold the (outcome)."

Stephens thought the vote could be as close as four-to-three in the seven-member council.

Occupancy standards have been a much-debated aspect of the council's agenda, especially for students who live in violation of the city's largely unenforced "three-related law," which states that more than three unrelated people cannot live in a rental house together.

But Stephens is worried the occupancy law could be rewritten as part of the new rental-licensing plan and encouraged students to attend a council study session Tuesday, where issue will likely be discussed.

The struggle to engage students is a difficult one, she said, because of their busy lifestyles.

"I think a lot of people don't even realize it's something that can happen to them," she said. "Come and find out – you could be in violation (of three-unrelated) and not even know it."

What IS it?

Indeed, for many CSU students and community members, rental licensing and occupancy standards are misunderstood.

During October, the city manager's office released a memo advertising possible changes in city ordinances to deal with nuisance and density problems. The plan includes amending the city's occupancy law and public nuisance ordinance, requiring mandatory rental registration, altering nuisance-gathering provisions and allowing for specific exemptions to the occupancy law.

The council may give a final recommendation at Tuesday's study session.

If the council chooses a specific course of action, the issue will be given to the city manager's office, where the policy will be reviewed and rewritten as a city ordinance. The issue may then once again come before the council for an official vote.

What to do?

In a situation with vastly differing lifestyles and viewpoints, it is important to create a program and system tailored to the situation, said Tess Heffernan, council policy manager for the city manager's office. This is the reason the city did not simply adopt another city's policy but is instead designing its own.

Walker said many students do not realize how difficult a few inconsiderate renters make life for homeowners.

"Most students are fine people. It's just the problems we're talking about," Walker said, recounting an incident in which college student neighbors shouted obscenities at young children setting up a lemonade stand.

"There are very volatile situations and people are getting disgusted and fed up," he said.

In December, the Rolland Moore network presented a list of "horror stories" to City Council, ranging from complaints about a mother helping her son celebrate his new rental home with several kegs of beer to public urination and drunken behavior.

Members of the network and other neighborhood groups hope stricter occupancy standards, clearer nuisance ordinances and rental registration will help control nuisance problems. They believe more occupants in a house leads to more disruptive parties, more cars, more visitors and more coming and going in their peaceful neighborhoods. They also want landlords' names to be registered with the city so complaints can be addressed to the landlord and the renter.

But for renters, especially students, the main benefit of rental licensing will be health and safety inspections that will protect them from unknowingly leasing dangerous properties.

"There are a lot of people around campus who live in very unsafe conditions," ASCSU's Stephens said.

Council member David Roy agreed with the importance of health and safety inspections and said he is concerned that the council may be looking more at rental registration – a voluntary process with no inspection – than licensing, which would require rental properties to pass health and safety inspections.

` "(Right now) the efforts that City Council are making are more related to nuisances," Roy explained. "My sense right now is that inspections are further down the road."

Stephens supports the inspection of rental properties for health and safety concerns, but she worries these inspections may lead to increased housing costs for renters.

"Our main concern was if (a property) required major updates – that those fees would be passed down (to tenants)," Stephens said.

Ginny Sawyer of the city's neighborhood resource office said heavy vacancy rates in rental properties might prevent landlords from trying to recoup remodeling costs by raising rent but acknowledged the possibility of rent increases.

"If there are substantial changes, then that property owner could face having to put in, like $10,000 – yeah, that is a more substantial amount of money, that the landlord may try to recoup on tenants," she said.

The fees associated with registration and licensing are also a concern, though more for landlords than for renters since the cost of registration would likely fall between $80 and $100, Heffernan said.

Sawyer agreed.

"Even if it costs the landlord $200 a year, if you divided that over 12 months and three tenants, I don't feel like that's substantial," Sawyer said.

Melanie Petrasek, a landlord with two properties in Boulder, where rental licensing and inspections were recently introduced, has not seen a change in housing costs because of registration fees, which she said were about $95 for each property.

"It didn't reflect in the price of the property. It was just something that I absorbed," she said.

Petrasek also swallowed the cost of rental inspections – close to $200 – but did not have to renovate either of her properties.

Emotions

There are deeper issues at work in the debate over rental licensing – pride, perceived discrimination, frustration and accusations of reckless selfishness.

Students and homeowners may see each others' perspective, but neither side wants to abandon its own views.

Doug Brobst, a homeowner near Rolland Moore Park, supports rental licensing and the three-unrelated ordinance because he wants to preserve the family-oriented atmosphere in his neighborhood, which he feels is threatened by encroaching rental properties.

"Our neighborhood is just becoming more and more taken over by rental units," he said. "I see it more and more on the adjacent streets to us."

Ideally, Brobst said, he would like to see student housing restricted to areas directly adjacent to campus.

"The best solution is for the university to sit down with (the) city and investors and create some multi-rental units close to the university," he said, adding that he would like to see innovative, creative housing, "not just like the dorms."

But for some students, any form of university housing is undesirable.

Katie Edling, a junior art major who transferred to CSU her sophomore year and moved out of the residence halls after only one semester, expressed dismay at the idea.

"Having your own house is like having your own freedom from your parents and from the dorms," she said. "It's about personal space."

Students complain neighbors are eager to accept the money and jobs the university brings to Fort Collins but are reluctant to embrace students as members of the community.

"This is largely a college town, and if you don't want to have to live next to students, you shouldn't live here," said Holly Bookman, a junior psychology major.

Brobst addressed this common student concern with a point of his own.

"I'm a member of this community. I put money into this community," he said. "I also understand as a member of the community, I need to be a good citizen to the community. That means being a good neighbor."

But Bookman feels students are unfairly targeted and said that most student renters are good neighbors.

"What, we're all bad and going to throw raging parties and trash the neighborhoods and leave our trash cans out?" Bookman said.

Stephens said many students have become overly defensive by what they feel is an attack on their demographic and lifestyle.

"I don't think we should say it targets students, but that doesn't mean it doesn't feel like it," Stephens said.

Brobst said the problem is caused not only by students but also by other irresponsible renters and landlords.

Bookman agreed.

"I'm sure there are people who are in the same age range as students who aren't enrolled at CSU," she said. "People who go to Front Range Community College, or their friends live here."

Smith said sometimes homeowners are too aggressive toward students.

"I've had some neighbors consistently badgering my tenants to the point that I had to take less rent. It was well known that – this neighborhood – they were going to come over and badger them," he said.

Walker disagreed, saying neighbors tolerate unacceptable behavior before reacting.

"People feel bad about the fact that they have to become so hard-nosed," he said, "But (some student renters) are so totally disrespectful and completely self-centered."

The vastly differing viewpoints of college student renters and homeowners with families make a quick and easy solution unlikely, Heffernan said.

"I don't know. I would hope we can get some resolution," she said.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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