Group looks to make leasing-by-bedroom safer

Citizen advisory group discusses safety

12/22/2012 12:00 AM

12/20/2012 11:26 AM

The citizen advisory group that will make a recommendation to the Charlotte City Council about leasing and parking issues in Charlotte college areas still believes the practice of leasing-by-bedroom should be legal – but the group is trying to decide how to make the practice safe for students.

Perhaps the most concrete result of the discussions thus far is the formation of Niner Choice, which is being created jointly by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and UNC Charlotte.

Niner Choice will be a program that accredits University City apartment complexes that reach safety standards set by the school and police.

The program is still in the planning stages, said Capt. Freda Lester, the commander for CMPD’s University City Division, and details have not yet been released.

Leasing by bedroom differs from traditional apartment-sharing because tenants don’t necessarily know or choose whom their roommates are. It currently is not covered in Charlotte’s zoning ordinance, so it is illegal. But Charlotte-Mecklenburg police are aware of at least 14 of the University City area’s 53 multifamily communities that rent by the room.

This practice raises safety concerns because crime is relatively higher in complexes that rent by bedroom than in complexes that lease by unit – and students are sometimes housed with drug dealers and criminals on probation.

Chief Jeff Baker, UNCC’s police chief, said he hopes Niner Choice is unveiled by spring.

Jamie Swick, a partner with Integrity Student Housing Consultants, was at the citizen advisory group’s latest meeting in mid-December, and said she thinks Niner Choice is a step in the right direction to help solve issues surrounding leasing by bedroom.

“I think it’s going to be a tremendous benefit,” Swick said. She said she also wants to see police living at University City apartment complexes – along with more surveillance cameras, tenant credit and background checks, more parking lights, the installation of solid doors, and the pruning of trees and bushes that might allow predators to hide.

The group was receptive to all of those ideas, although facilitator Michelle Jones of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department said the City Council recently discussed leasing by bedroom and seems to be in favor of enforcing the ordinance against it.

“They really have an issue with renting-by-bedroom use being allowed at all,” Jones told the advisory group of about 40. “They’d like it prohibited and want to shut down the apartments that are doing that.”

Jones’ comments were met with an uproar from those who attended. One man asked when elections will be held for the City Council. Another asked if the citizen advisory group meetings were a waste of time if the council had already made up its mind.

Community activist and College Downs resident Martin Zimmerman said he heard the council speak about it and reassured the group. “They were opinionated,” he said. “But I’m sure they’ll listen seriously to whatever recommendation we make.”

The City Council has the power to decide what will happen concerning the legality of leasing by bedroom.

Councilman Michael Barnes, who represents University City, did not immediately answer requests to talk about the issue.

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