Over-occupancy is not about safety

Minneapolis is in the midst of a frenzied inspection sweep of about 900 rental houses near campus. The city has been quick to act under the guise of public safety, but in reality it is proving to be an opportune time for them to target what they deem over-occupancy.

The relative term of over-occupancy invokes images of cramped housing conditions. In actuality, housing capacity rules are unlike other capacity regulations. It has nothing to with how big or small a rental unit is, how much parking it has, the size of its yard or its distance from other buildings. All that matters is which zone a rental unit is in, and if the people living in the unit are related.

So, five unrelated people in another part of Minneapolis, or four in St. Paul, can live safely in the same size house in which three can reside near campus. Furthermore, students can cram into an apartment or dormitory but can’t fully occupy (in common-sense terms) a house. Four can share a two-bedroom apartment at Dinnaken House, but only three at a larger two-bedroom – or any number – non-apartment with more parking.

Besides being unrelated to safety, making inspectors look for “over-occupancy” is only going to deter focus from rental unit safety because it will turn the city’s effort into a public debate over zoning laws. Instead of regulating occupancy based on safety, it appears it is determined by which neighborhoods are deemed problematic for nuisances extra tenants are thought to bring, such as noise and parking. However, these concerns should be addressed through a different method.

While students have been silent about the inspection sweep, this is sure to change once they begin receiving eviction notices. Maybe the hundreds, perhaps thousands, who live in over-occupied houses think they will be able to trick housing inspectors. However, there are bound to be many who are not smart enough to figure out how or lack the time to enact elaborate schemes.

Instead of helping students, the city’s response to a tragedy is to give them unwarranted adversity. Students need to wake up and act before they have no bed on which to wake up.