Obscure Ordinance Ousts Occupants

9 years 8 months 4 days ago Wednesday, January 19 2011 Jan 19, 2011 Wednesday, January 19, 2011 7:10:40 AM CST January 19, 2011 in News
COLUMBIA- The Columbia City Council might vote Tuesday to increase regulations and add more inspections for rental properties with too many tenants. Dozens of Columbia renters have been evicted this year because they did not know the law.  Landlords may be ignoring it. Officials at the Office of Neighborhood Services have investigated more than 43 zoning violation cases in the past year.

MU student Kyle Key and three friends signed a lease on a house right off the MU campus in mid-August. When another friend needed a place to live, Key said his landlord added the fifth roommate to the lease.
  
"We got in contact with our landlord and five was okay and there were five people on our signed lease," Key said.

So imagine Key's surprise when just two weeks after he moved in, a Columbia police officer knocked on his door and demanded to see his lease.

"They were just asking some questions about how many people lived here," Key said.
   
Key and his roommates were in violation of chapter 29-6 of city code. According to this ordinance, no more than three un-related people can live together in a single family home. Key said police were suspicious when they noticed five cars in his driveway. Five cars is ok, but it tips off police about how many people are inside.

"We may have another violation such as trash issues or abandoned vehicles or unlicensed vehicles on the property or maybe a rental that isn't registered with the city under the rental conservation laws," Columbia police officer Tim Thomason said. "So we may investigate other things too and come across too many people living in a residence."
   
Key said officer Thomason told him two of the five roommates had 24 hours to move out.

"That's pretty impossible," Key said. "If you're a college kid and school's about to start and you have all this stuff in your house, it's hectic. You have a lot of stuff going on so we couldn't really find a place in 24 hours. You know, try to stay with our buddies. So, the next day we got another knock on the door and we all received tickets for not knowing the law."
   
Officials at the Office of Neighborhood Services said while the ordinance is not new, it is news to many.
KOMU asked students on MU's campus if they knew about the ordinance.

"One of the things we've worked on is to try to raise awareness about these issues because it wouldn't be something that everyone in Columbia is aware of, and we are not surprised by that," ONS director Leigh Britt said.

Key said he blames several culprits for his situation.

"I put the blame on us for not knowing the law," Key said. "I put the blame on our landlord for not telling us, 'there's five people in this house, there's only supposed to be three. you guys need to be safe.'"

But Key's landlord, Tim Fisher said he only signed the lease to three people.

"I didn't sign the lease to five people, I signed a lease to three people," Fisher said.

Key contends Fisher put five people on the lease, but says the landlord confiscated all the old leases after police caught him and his roommates. Regardless of who is at fault, Britt said many Columbia landlords still assume the number of bedrooms a home has is equal to how many people can live there.

"The owner of that home may think 'well gosh, if it's a large home then why can't we fill every bedroom and have this many people live here?'' Britt said. "So in many cases, I imagine that there's probably space for that many people, there's just other issues that happen when you've got that many people living in one home."
   
Issues like excessive noise, trash and traffic that Britt said affect the quality of life for all residents.
 
"I think the important thing to know is for people that are living in Columbia in single family neighborhoods that if it's next to you, this is an issue," Britt said.

Tuesday's vote could changes the current rental conservation law. These changes would:
  • Revoke the rental Certificate of Compliance for three years when there is a conviction of an over-occupancy charge.
  • As an alternative, the owner may apply for a one-year provisional Certificate of Compliance and agree to quarterly inspections to verify the unit is in compliance with code and occupancy.
  • Remove the ability to transfer a Certificate of Compliance when the ownership of a rental unit changes. When ownership changes, the current Certificate will expire and the new owner will be required to make a new application thus increasing the inspections on rental properties.
For a link to the Office of Neighborhood Services website, click here.







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