Outgoing UNC student body president Christy Lambden is asking Chapel Hill town leaders to overturn an ordinance which bans more than four unrelated individuals from living in the same residence. He said it has resulted in numerous evictions of students, some of whom were unaware that the rule existed.
Lambden presented 917-signature petition against the ordinance to the Chapel Hill Town Council Monday night.
“No student should be told to move in the middle of the semester, especially due to misleading or lacking information.” Lambden said.
In December, town officials said they were stepping up enforcement of the policy in response to complaints from residents.
Lambden told the council students are being evicted from their homes in the middle of the academic year and consequently have to find affordable replacement housing, which is already scarce in Chapel Hill.
The ordinance was enacted in 2003 to address noise complaints, trash issues and vehicles parking illegally in the streets.
It imposes a $100-per-day fine for the first offense, with penalties going up to $500 per day for subsequent violations. Those fines are actually imposed on the owner of the house, but students have complained that the violations are falling on the renters.
“The burden placed upon students via fines passed onto them by landlords cannot continue. While the direct harm done to students is not the only consequence of this occupancy rule, it is my primary concern,” Lambden said.
In a letter to the student body, Lambden said that he commissioned a student body task force last November to research the enforcement of the occupancy rule. The group reported to Lambden that the rule has not been successful in fulfilling its initial aim, based on their findings. Lambden said that it has failed to substantially curb noise violations and issues of traffic congestion or to protect the historic neighborhoods.
“We believe that repealing the Occupancy Rule will increase the density of housing and can help to stop the increase movement of students into historic neighborhoods,” he said. “This can be achieved in part by allowing more than four students to live in houses that have already been built to accommodate more than the occupancy rule allows for. We ask that you reconsider the occupancy rule and find ways to better protect renters.”
By repealing the Occupancy Rule, Lambden said he believed it would minimize the student impact on traditional neighborhoods and reduce resident displacement due to student housing needs.
Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt asked the council and Town Staff to incorporate the petition and the concerns that it raises into the Town’s “good neighbor” planning efforts, particularly for Northside neighborhoods.
“I think the occupancy ordinance is implicated in those conversations and in those discussions as much as it is anything else.” Lambden said.
As the council voted to receive the petition, it will come up again for discussion and possible action at a future meeting, though a date was not set.