Citizens advisory group agrees: Leasing by bedroom should be allowed

More discussion needed at meeting this week, members say

11/25/2012 12:00 AM

11/20/2012 1:02 PM

The possibility of leasing by bedroom around Charlotte colleges took a step forward this month when a citizens advisory group agreed the practice should be allowed.

The group reached the consensus at a Nov. 15 meeting and will continue discussing the issue at a Nov. 27 meeting. It will make a recommendation to the Charlotte City Council next year.

Currently, leasing by bedroom is illegal because it is not defined by Charlotte’s zoning ordinance. But that doesn’t mean the practice doesn’t happen: Fourteen of University City’s 53 multifamily communities – apartments, condominiums and townhomes – rent by room rather than by unit, said Lt. Dave Johnson of the University Division of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department.

The practice of renting by room targets college students looking for affordable options, but in recent years, crime in those 14 communities has increased, Johnson said.

Reports of robberies, burglaries, larcenies, drug deals and assaults have increased, and those communities accounted for 43 percent of the crime in the area’s multifamily communities in 2011, Johnson told the group of about 40 people at the Nov. 15 meeting.

Crime has risen in large part because renting by room isn’t limited to students, Johnson said. Several people on probation rent by bedroom in some of the more concentrated areas of crime, he said.

“This is obviously a concern for us,” Johnson said.

For the sake of students, he said, he’d like to see better safety standards for places that rent by room.

“We want to make the safest environment possible for kids,” he said.

While safety is a concern, the group – which includes city planning and transportation department representatives, property managers, neighbors and CMPD officers – agreed that renting by room should be allowed in some capacity.

“If you don’t make renting by bedroom work, the university is going to choke,” said Joe Papasso, who was at the meeting and has plans to build an apartment complex near UNC Charlotte. “The growth is going to stop.”

UNCC currently has about 25,300 students enrolled and 7,500 beds available, according to estimates from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department.

Papasso said he owns properties that successfully rent by room for students in other cities. He said a close proximity to the schools and a requirement for high credit scores to rent – which typically means parents must co-sign leases – keeps students safer. He also hires students who act as resident assistants and help monitor rules and safety, he said.

A program to match roommates also has been successful, he said.

But one thing is clear: “Students and nonstudents don’t mix,” Papasso said.

That issue raised several questions that remain unanswered.

More discussion will address if renting by room should be limited to students and if doing so would be legal under the Fair Housing Act.

Group members asked whether leasing by bedroom should be permitted within a certain radius of schools and if new rules should include single-family housing, too.

Those are questions the group will have to tackle before making a recommendation about the practice in January. Only the City Council has the power to make a final decision on the matter.

Members will talk more about it, along with parking issues, at the group’s next meeting, Nov. 27.

Barry Mosley, a facilitator of the advisory group with the planning department, said he thought the citizens’ input began a constructive discussion for the recommendation.

“We’ve got some homework to do,” Mosley said. “But it’s good stuff.”

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