Discussions about the practice of leasing-by-bedroom in Charlotte’s college areas have been suspended indefinitely while the city’s legal department wrestles with a thorny issue raised by the Fair Housing Act.
The department is trying to determine how an ordinance governing leasing-by-bedroom might apply only to students without violating the federal law.
Meanwhile, “we’ve put the process on hold,” said Michelle Jones of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department.
Leasing-by-bedroom is illegal because the practice isn’t defined in Charlotte’s zoning ordinances. But, several apartment complexes in University City – at least 14, according to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department – still do it.
The practice is causing problems because, while it attracts students with low rent rates, it also attracts drug dealers and people on probation, the University Division of the CMPD has said. Students have been getting housed with nonstudents, and the crime rate in the complexes that rent by bedroom is higher than those that rent by unit.
Leasing-by-bedroom differs from traditional apartment-sharing because tenants don’t necessarily know or choose their roommates. Instead of signing or co-signing a lease for a whole unit, lessees just sign for the use of one bedroom and shared common areas.
An advisory group has been meeting since October to try to figure out a solution with the goal of presenting its recommendations to the City Council. It had originally aimed to give a proposal to the council by January.
After the group decided leasing-by-bedroom should be available only for students, the conversation stalled when no one could figure out if that can be done and still meet the Fair Housing Act. Barring people besides students might violate the act, which prohibits landlords from discriminating against potential renters based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap.
Jones said it hasn’t been determined when there might be another meeting.
Apartment owners must register
In related news, the CMPD is trying to get the word out that rental property owners must register all of the units in their complexes for the new rental property ordinance.
The ordinance is in place to reduce crime and provide police with a contact database so they know whom to call when emergencies happen, and also to notify owners when crime takes place on their property.
There is a threshold of the number of crimes per property before University City police will meet with property owners to figure out a solution to reduce crime.
The ordinance, which requires that rental property owners register their information at cmpd.org, went into effect Jan. 1, but there is a six-month grace period for registering properties.
At a recent meeting, Officer Krista Dodd, a community coordinator for the CMPD’s University City Division, said she knows having to take time to enter information for all of the properties is time consuming, but that it will help with safety and crime prevention in the future.
“This will be very helpful to us in the long run,” Dodd said.