University City

October 28, 2012

Illegal leasing trend draws community attention

While a lack of student parking continues to be an issue in University City, another issue is getting the attention of police, city officials and area residents: leasing by bedroom.

While a lack of student parking continues to be an issue in University City, another issue is getting the attention of police, city officials and area residents: leasing by bedroom.

The concept isn’t new; police say it’s been a trend for the past five or 10 years.

Leasing by bedroom, instead of by unit, targets college students looking for affordable options. Because “leasing by bedroom” isn’t defined by Charlotte’s zoning ordinance, however, the practice is considered illegal.

It also raises some safety concerns because complexes that rent by the room have higher rates of crime, police say.

About 20 people formed a citizen advisory group this month to address the practice, along with parking issues. By January, the group expects to present recommendations to the Charlotte City Council.

In recent years, reports of robberies, burglaries, larcenies and drug deals have increased in housing units that are leased by bedroom, said Lt. Dave Johnson of the University City division of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. When people lease by bedroom, they may or may not have a say in who will become their roommates, he said. And being a student may not be requisite.

“The drug dealers have figured out it’s a low-cost housing option right in the middle of their sales base,” he said.

But drug dealing isn’t the only safety issue police have seen with lease-by-bedroom situations.

“We get everything except homicide,” said Officer Ryan Botzenmayer.

One roommate Cloroxed another’s clothes. One got pepper-sprayed while another got shocked by a Taser. And stealing is at an all-time high at the end of the year with rented rooms.

“Around Christmas break, we get a flood of (theft) reports,” Johnson said.

The citizen advisory group – which includes city planning department representatives, developers and University City police officers – will define the term, decide whether it should be allowed and, if so, what conditions it must meet, said Michelle Jones of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department.

“We’re not looking to shut anybody down or put anybody out of business,” Johnson said. “There’s a need for this type of housing. We just want it to be a safe environment for students.”

Johnson said 14 of University City’s 53 multifamily communities – apartments, condominiums and townhouses – rent by bedroom rather than by unit. “They only make 26 percent of multifamily communities, but they account for 43 percent of our crime there,” he said.

He said newer complexes are more attractive to students, which is putting pressure on older communities.

“It kind of creates a vacuum at the older places, and that’s where we see an influx of non-students coming,” Johnson said. He’s seen prices for rooms range from $285 to $645 a month.

Johnson said possibilities for making leasing by bedroom safer include renting only to students, installing sturdier interior doors and locks, and adding surveillance cameras, gated access and self-locking bedroom doors.

The citizen advisory group also will discuss parking near Charlotte’s college campuses.

The group will identify where problems are, why they’re happening and whether enough parking is available. It will also define the appropriate ratio of parking in multifamily developments, said the planning department’s Jones.

The growth of UNCC is a large part of University City’s problem – the planning department estimates 25,300 students attend, while only 14,500 parking spaces are available. Recently, residents of the nearby College Downs neighborhood voted to ban parking on the streets during weekdays because too many students were parking there.

Martin Zimmerman, who attended a meeting about what the advisory group will do, lives in College Downs but said students parking in his neighborhood isn’t what compelled him to get involved.

“People have to change their habits.… We’re not an auto-centric society anymore; we can’t be,” Zimmerman said. He wants to see more people walking, bicycling and using light rail. “People need to recognize there are a lot of ways to get on and off campus (other) than a car.”

The advisory group will have its final meeting Jan. 10 before presenting recommendations to the City Council, which has the power to make changes.

Jones said she hopes resolutions are adopted by next summer.

“So when the school year starts,” she said, “we’d have something in place.”

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