Renting to the Unrelated

Jan 302005
Authors: Ben Bleckley

The Fort Collins City Council and the City Manager's office have begun a rental registration program regarding the amendment of a nuisance ordinance and nuisance gathering code. These are logical and thoughtful responses to the September riots and community complaints.

Rental registration would place partial responsibility of a renter's actions on the owner, encouraging landlords to carefully consider whom they rent property to. Registration would better assure safe living conditions for tenants, and it will aid public education of the nuisance ordinance and gathering code.

These potential amendments will streamline the process, serving notice to offenders by a city official, and will bring the charge of damages against offenders instead of city taxpayers.

In these ways the city has responded proportionally to make communities cohabitated by college students and families comfortable and safe for all residents.

However, any decision to further enforce the three-unrelated ordinance is unacceptable and an overreaction that would blindly punish college students' independence of their individuality will have a personal impact on Fort Collins.

When the same issue was discussed at a study session on Jan. 27, 2004, Mayor Ray Martinez called the ordinance "unconstitutional." However, there is a very real possibility it is.

The three-unrelated ordinance is a section in article five of the city's Land Use Code that defines a family as either "any number of persons related by blood, marriage, adoption, guardianship or other duly authorized custodial relationship unless such number is otherwise specifically limited in this Land Use Code or any unrelated group of persons consisting of not more than three persons or not more than two unrelated adults and their related children, if any."

The Land Use Code also states that single-family residences must contain no more than a single family.

Thus, individuals are in violation of a city ordinance when they live with three or more other tenants. In Fort Collins, it is likely the majority of these are college students.

Luckily this ordinance has not been widely enforced, and currently acts as a final resort in the case that nuisance complaints fail to evict repeat offenders.

However, pending an economic study, amendments could be made that would enforce three-unrelated more often, an act that could mean higher rental prices for college students already paying higher tuition. A four bedroom townhouse rented for $1,600 a month currently can be rented to four students for $400 each. If the ordinance were enforced, three of these students would be forced to pay $533 a month, a difference of over $1,000 in a nine-month period.

Such a law should be protected under the federal Fair Housing Act. Yet a number of similar cases, particularly the Supreme Court case City of Edmonds v. Oxford House, Inc., state that municipal governments have a right to limit the number of persons inhabiting a residence. Still, the reasons in this case were for personal safety of residents, not an attempt to limit nuisance violations.

Furthermore, more than three persons can easily live in a single family home. The average American family has four members. In the case of Edmonds v. Oxford, the number of persons was limited according to square feet of property.

As a citizen of Fort Collins, I too am upset and scared by anarchic rioting and fed up with repeat noise violations. The city council has maintained caution and careful steps while dealing with this important matter. They are right to wait on the return of this economic study. When they vote in upcoming months, I expect city council will remember the crucial role Colorado State University and its students play in the community as a whole – and the devastating effect the enforcement of three-unrelated would bring.

Ben Bleckley is a senior English major. His column runs Mondays in the Collegian.

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