Winter break has traditionally been a time of relaxation and a time to transition into the new semester. Some students, however, may find themselves searching for a new place to live — thanks to a city ordinance that will go into effect Jan. 1.
With the New Year, students unaware of the three-unrelated ordinance may have a “bad surprise,” city council member Ben Mavel said.
Although the occupancy limit ordinance, referred to as the three-unrelated ordinance, has been on the books since the 1960s, it was formerly a criminal offense. Now that the law has been changed to a civil offense, the burden of proof has been changed, according to Melissa Emerson the community liaison for Off-Campus Student Services. Basically, the law will be easier to enforce.
How the law works
Landlords and property owners have been informed of three-unrelated and should already have asked tenants to sign a disclosure form upon renting or leasing. This form states that all parties are aware of the ordinance. Should any questions arise, a landlord must present this documentation, Emerson said.
“They (the police) are not proactively looking for people in violation of the ordinance. They want people to be aware that it does exist,” she said.
If a neighbor decides to file a complaint, he or she must fill out a formal complaint of the residence in violation of the ordinance. If the neighbor chooses to remain anonymous, a courtesy letter will be sent to the tenants explaining the ordinance.
“If they (neighbors) leave their name, the case will be pursued. They could be asked to testify,” Emerson said.
Neighbors may cite several reasons for believing students are in violation of the ordinance, including the number of cars parked outside a residence continually or noise coming from parties.
If the investigation reveals students are in violation of the ordinance, they may ask to go to a hearing, and possibly have to prove, under oath, claims regarding their relationship to other tenants. If students lie on the stand, they could be convicted of perjury, Emerson said.
Mike Gebo, the codes and inspections administrator for the city of Fort Collins, is in charge of enforcing the newly redesigned ordinance.
Once a complaint has been filed, information will be sent to the manager or landlord of the complex. One of the first things Gebo will be looking for is whether or not the residence is zoned for a duplex or boarding house.
There are differences between what a duplex and a single family home allow as far as residency, Gebo said. Duplexes may house more students.
Citations may not be issued for a first offense. However, if students are still found in violation upon a follow-up visit, then a citation will be issued.
“We will give students some time frame to fix the violation,” Gebo said. “We will try to be as understanding as possible (given the situation). Students are having to pack up and move out. We are dealing with people’s lives here and we will be respectful of that.”
Gebo compared three-unrelated citations to traffic tickets. The minimum fine for violators is $500, with the maximum fine being $1,000.
“Eighty percent of the students are aware of the ordinance,” Emerson said. “However, they are not sure they understand the consequences.”
For the first citation, whoever has the ticket has a right to an official hearing, Gebo said.
“If I issue a citation today, I’ll be back in some time; let’s say 15 days. If everyone is still here, then I may come back every other day or every week,” Gebo said in regards to how the ordinance would be enforced. “I’m not looking to make this punitive. But it’s like if you keep speeding, we’re going to catch you and hopefully you’ll slow down.”
If, however, during spring semester that same residence is found over-occupied again, then Gebo may issue a citation right away.
CSU Student Conduct Services will not be involved with enforcing the ordinance, he said. Instead, the County Assessors Office will be involved.
Several apartment complexes have received approval from the city, allowing them to provide students with four rooms. These places include Ram’s Crossing, Ram’s Point, Ram’s Village and the Lofts at Campus.
Students stuck in the middle
Despite the impact the three-unrelated ordinance has on students, the Associated Students of CSU will not challenge the law, said Rebecca Spiegel, the assistant director of community affairs for ASCSU.
“We can’t change the ordinance, but we can promote awareness, give advice and provide solutions,” Spiegel said.
City Council member Manvel agrees ASCSU’s stance.
“The Neighborhood Relations Office has cooperated with the city committee and worked very hard to make sure landlords have received newsletters and been informed of the process,” Manvel said.
Manvel said one way students might avoid prosecution for violating the ordinance is to build good relationships with their neighbors.
“If your neighbor knows you and you have the occasional party, they are more likely to come talk to you instead of the police,” he said.
He added that as of Friday, the council was still curious as to how the ordinance would be enforced. City Council is scheduled to do a second reading of the ordinance by Dec. 19, according to Ginny Sawyer, the neighborhood administrator of Neighborhood Services.
But some students are not willing to go down without a fight.
Junior biological science major Chad Vaccarelli and senior psychology majors Michael Anderson and John Cashimer became interested in the three-unrelated ordinance when they were required to research a social activism issue for their Writing Arguments class.
Since then, the three have been on campus promoting student awareness. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, they spent their time gathering approximately 175 signatures for a letter they are going to send to the city mayor requesting the ordinance allow four unrelated students, instead of three.
“We feel that this is a good first step to move progressively and get things changed,” Vaccarelli said.
Staff writer Amy Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Student boarding houses are not allowed in the following areas:
v UE- Urban Estate
v RF- Foothills Residence
v RL- Low-density Residence
v NCL- Neighborhood Conservation Low-Density
v NCM- Neighborhood Conservation Medium-Density
v HC- Harmony Corridor
*All other 17 zones allow boarding houses with five or fewer students. A more detailed application process is required for individuals seeking classification as a boarding house with more than 5 students.
*The LMN (low density mixed use-neighborhood) zone only allows boarding houses with 4 or fewer students.
*See the zoning map at http://gisims.fcgov.com/website/zonedist/viewer.htm.