Homeowner concerns about over-occupancy are short-sighted

Didn’t want to write another column about over-occupancy. I really wanted to do one about basset hounds.

I like basset hounds.

But, alas, a couple things came up that put the doggie column on hold.

I had the privilege of discussing the over-occupancy debacle Tuesday at a meeting, where several homeowners shared their concerns with me. In addition to their thoughts, I will address what Bill Dane, a Student Legal Service attorney and local resident, said in his Nov. 19 column.

One problem homeowners have with over-occupancy is that they think it contributes to an increased likelihood of noise violations and disruptive parties. Visibly frustrated with the situation, they feel enforcement of the zoning codes would give them some peace and quiet.

I can sympathize. It would be pretty obnoxious to have rowdy, drunken college kids consistently wake you up at 3 a.m. However, I do not believe over-occupancy is to blame. The culprits are rowdy, drunken college kids. Whether they live in a rooming house, an apartment building, a cardboard box or an over-occupied home is irrelevant.

So, what would be the most effective way to resolve the noise violations and disruptive parties? Evict students or fight for stricter laws concerning party houses? I think the question answers itself.

People at the meeting, and Dane, in his column, said parking and a lack of egress windows are also related to over-occupancy.

More tenants equals parking congestion, which, according to Dane, creates a safety hazard for emergency response vehicles and snowplows.

The parking issue is about six steps removed from dealing with over-occupancy. More students living in a home near campus does not necessarily mean they will each have a car; many of my neighbors do not. In fact, commuter students’ cars are just as much to blame for parking congestion as any “over-occupied” house. Also, homes that are not over-occupied might draw just as many extra cars because of the occupants’ friends. Furthermore, if I remember right, it is perfectly legal to park on the street.

As far as a potential safety hazard, the chances of an ambulance or a snowplow colliding with a parked car are very slim. According to the ambulance crashes tracking log on www.EMSnetwork.org, parked cars have not caused one ambulance accident since data collection began in 1998. There is no similar information at the snowplow crashes tracking log on SnowPlowNetwork.org (this is a joke – there is no such snowplow Web site). Nevertheless, Minneapolis has found a way to ensure the safety of snowplows and the community: snow emergency days.

If people are parking legally, there is no problem. If they are parked illegally, the solution is to enforce the traffic laws, not to kick students out of their homes. Another solution, although not one I suggest, is to limit street parking to only vehicles with guest or occupant permits.

Another correlation homeowners and Dane cite is that over-occupancy leads people to sleep in areas without proper egress windows. For a bedroom to be safe, it must have at least two exits, such as a door and a window. According to Dane, it is a “virtual certainty” that students living in an over-occupied house will sleep in basements or attics to gain privacy and, “Unless there are adequate egress windows, those students are not safe.”

Dane just resolved this concern. He said it is the lack of egress windows that compromises a tenant’s safety. Not over-occupancy. If a bedroom does not have an adequate egress window, the obvious solution is to install a window.

An over-occupied house is only unsafe if other code violations, such as an egress violation or fire hazard, make it so. Over-occupancy by itself is not a safety issue.

If the city forces students out of their homes, they might actually be putting students at risk. According to Dane, “Inspectors have found violations in approximately 75 percent of inspected properties.” If people living in an over-occupied home are evicted they have a good chance of moving into a house with violations. There is also the possibility that displaced students might move into places that have not been inspected or are not located in the housing-sweep parameters. Unlike over-occupancy, this is a safety issue.

The city cannot rationally kick people out while the housing inspections are under way, and the houses students might move to still have code violations.

To ensure the safety of all students, evictions should not be enforced until the city has verified that all houses around campus have been brought up to code.

Chad Hamblin is a columnist. He welcomes comments at [email protected]