Four and more

How many teenagers can stay home alone without parental supervision before it becomes not a good idea? The Town of Chapel Hill has set the limit at four. Except in areas zoned R-3, like Northside and a couple of historic districts downtown. Those neighborhoods can stuff many more than four in a residence, as long as they call it a rooming house.

At tonight’s Town Council meeting, a group of property owners in Cobb Terrace, one of the neighborhoods zoned to allow rooming houses, is asking the town to abolish the rooming house clause.
The town ordinance that prohibits more than four unrelated people sharing a house doesn’t specify whether they are teenagers, but in a college town, chances are they will be, or not far from it.

After a year or two of dorm life, some students are ready for a bedroom and bathroom with doors that lock and a kitchen where they can expand their menu options beyond ramen noodles. So they look for a house or apartment off campus, and to make it affordable, bring in lots of roommates to share the rent. The yard then becomes littered with cars that sometimes clutter the street. The noise level sometimes goes up. And sometimes things you might not risk doing on your own become attractive when a half dozen of your friends are egging you on.

But when a household ignores the no-more-than-four rule, the town shrugs it off.

About 10 years or so ago, the town established a Landlord Registry and required all landlords to pay $10 and fill out a sheet of paper that asked for their contact information and little else. The idea was that if a household was being a nuisance, the town could contact the landlord and threaten fines if the landlord didn’t get the tenants to shape up. But a couple years later, the registry was dismantled, and with it a place to lodge a complaint against unruly renters.

Landlords should hold tenants accountable for tenant behavior, and landlords should hold themselves accountable, too, by making sure that no more than four unrelated people are living in their rental unit. But with the rooming house free pass, neighbors have nowhere to turn should a household get out of hand.

Abolishing rooming houses in neighborhoods close to campus would be a gesture of goodwill to local property owners. Making public where and how to lodge a complaint against a household in violation of the no-more-than-four rule would be a nice follow-up step.
– Nancy Oates

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1 Comment

  1. Terri Buckner

     /  March 29, 2011

    There was a large contingency of Northside residents at last night’s meeting asking the Council to put an immediate moratorium on building permits for this very reason. The town does not enforce the ordinance that restricts co-habitation to 4 unrelated individuals, and builders are finding loop holes in the neighborhood conservation district restrictions that allow them to tear down small homes and build 5-6 bedroom residences. Hopefully, council will honor the request at their next meeting instead of letting more small homes be converted into student housing.