Bill aims to eliminate restrictions on unrelated tenants


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City officials in college towns throughout Iowa are crying foul at a bill that would eradicate all regulations for the number of unrelated tenants living together in rental apartments and other residences.

The Iowa House approved House File 161 earlier this week, which would ban cities from limiting the number of unrelated tenants in rentals. The bill was approved, 73-26, by the Republican-led House, by what Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, said was bipartisan support.

Baltimore said the biggest opposition came from college-town representatives trying to solve what they perceive as behavioral problems, including loud parties, cars parked in yards, garbage left on property, and other community problems.

A similar bill is making its way through the Senate.

Baltimore said he believes there is no logical connection between familial ties between tenants and the problems those cities are trying to solve. There are separate ordinances that may be put into effect to address excessive noise and garbage, he said.

“It doesn’t matter whether people in a home are related — if they’re having a loud party it’s still disruptive,” he said.

Reps. Sally Stutsman, D-Riverside, Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, and Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, opposed the measure. They said they believe strongly in local control for matters such as these.

“Each town has its own character, and each town has its own challenges as far as affordable housing,” Jacoby said. “To think that people in Des Moines know what’s best for Iowa City is just ludicrous.”

Mascher said the Iowa City City Council passed an ordinance to set the limit at three unrelated people per unit in certain zoning areas, based on receiving so many complaints from certain neighborhoods seeing an influx of unrelated tenants.

Stutsman said many community members living in college towns have been accustomed to living in a single-family dwelling for all of their lives had to adjust to large rental houses being built in their neighborhoods, bringing in a congestion of cars, people, and a louder party scene.

In contrast, Baltimore called the existing city ordinance a “lazy” way to address these issues, and he said it undermines affordable-housing options for students.

“We talk about student loan debt down here and how much college costs for students, and then we turn around and limit their housing options because they’re not related to each other,” he said. “I just think that college students should be outraged that cities are doing this.”

But Mascher said the legislation could cause even more problems with landlords exploiting tenants.

“We’re also concerned that landlords who are unscrupulous will exploit this,” she said. “So they could have 15 people in an apartment charging each of [them] more then they should and get away with it.”

Landlords are also fined when there are too many unrelated people living in the same residence, but Baltimore said it is a civil-rights-law violation for a landlord to discriminate on the basis of family status or lack of family status.

Tracy Barkalow, a leasing manager for Big Ten Property Management in Iowa City, agreed.

“If [the houses and apartments are] managed properly, the benefits of having more people is good,” he said. “It’s basically a no-brainer.”

Barkalow said it is common for students and families who live in a house with more than three bedrooms to sneak others in to live there undocumented. He said it is out of the landlord’s control when this happens and getting rid of the barrier would solve a lot of issues.

Student buyers and renters could potentially save by splitting housing and utility costs if the bill passes and more are allowed to live in one unit together.

He said the city has to police houses and apartments to make sure they’re following the ordinance, which creates a bigger “headache” for the city.

Not only can clients save money, so can the city and taxpayers, Barkalow said.

“It will save time and money for the city because they police [the homes] and take them to court,” he said. “Why waste taxpayers’ money on that?”

However, Bob Kindred, an Ames assistant city manager in, hopes the bill does not pass in the Legislature.

“[If passed, it] would have a huge impact on our neighborhoods, because right now the residential occupancy laws that our City Council has adopted is what helps us maintain a balance in low-density neighborhoods between rentals and home-occupied homes,” he said.

Like Iowa City, Ames also has a restriction under which no more than three unrelated adults may live in a housing unit in certain areas.

Though he said it is good for the landlords who can sell the property to more people and make more money, Kindred does not see the benefits for locals and neighborhoods in the city.

“Homes [will be] no longer bought by families because they become moneymakers for landlords,” Kindred said.

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