The committee charged with drafting a boarding house ordinance – officially the “neighborhood preservation” ordinance – was greeted at its July 7 meeting by over 100 Santa Clara University students, outspokenly unhappy with what they perceived as discrimination against them.
A Change.org petition was delivered to the city, “Save Off-campus Housing: Petition to Stop the Passage of the July 2014 Zoning Ordinance,” which currently has over 500 online signatures. “We believe this ordinance, if passed, discriminates against college students and encroaches on both tenant and landlord rights,” the petition says. “The city council’s proposed regulations will create issues in the rental market across the entire county.”
Further, “Looking at the data from RealSource Property management, 63 percent of their houses rented to students in the area would be required to split up their groups. This represents 345 Santa Clara students renting from RealSource who will now be forced to move deeper into residential neighborhoods looking for a place to live.”
The petition is sponsored by online Santa Clara student rental marketplace, OneRent Real Estate, a privately-held company launched last Spring. RealSource Property Management is operated by Myron and Jason Von Raesfeld. The company charges landlords a $1,200 finder’s fee for student housing.
Monday’s meeting sent the Council sub-committee back to the drawing board. Some say that the issue is a larger one than numbers of bedrooms.
“I think the University needs to work with us as a strategic partner to work on the development envisioned with the Santa Clara Station Area plan and build housing for 1,000-plus additional students on the other side of the campus,” says Council Member Teresa O’Neill.
“Santa Clara University will work with city leaders, our students and the community to understand the issues and concerns around the proposed ordinance,” says Kimberly Gilkey-Wall?Assistant Dean, Office of Student Life. “We look forward to receiving the next draft of the proposed ordinance.”
Until Monday, the complaining was coming from Old Quad homeowners over the creeping growth of “mini dorms” – single-family homes converted to four, five, six, and even seven bedrooms and rented to SCU students. Neighbors say mini-dorms exacerbate traffic and parking problems, and there is little or no enforcement against poor maintenance and rowdy behavior.
The ordinance bans boarding houses in the “R-1-6L residential zone.” In plain English, that’s a neighborhood of single family detached homes on 6,000 square foot lots. A “boarding house” is “any residence where three or more rooms are rented out to separate individuals who are not members of the same family.”
Because many people living together today are recognized as “families,” defining one for legal purposes – especially when the purpose is exclusionary – demands extensive verbal choreography not to run afoul of civil rights laws.
In the proposed ordinance, a family is “an individual or two or more persons related by blood, marriage or adoption, living together; or a group of not more than five persons, not all of whom are related by blood, marriage or adoption, but all of whom are living together as a single housekeeping unit within a dwelling that all persons within the unit maintain free access to all living spaces within the dwelling.”
While including licensed group homes as “families,” it excludes “fraternities, sororities and clubs.”
The proposed law tries to head off new mini-dorm conversions by requiring Architectural Committee approval for renovations that change the interior or exterior of any building with four or more bedrooms in an R-1 neighborhood.
Further, Committee approval will be required before permits can be issued for changes to the exterior of any building in the city – in response to a recent dispute over permits that were issued “over the counter” to extensively remodel a two bedroom/one bath house into a five-bedroom/three bath house and add a detached garage.
It’s hard to gauge the actual number of mini-dorms. Currently, there are rental listings at the SCU website for rooms in 13 Santa Clara homes with four or more bedrooms. Typical rents are $800 to $1,000 for private rooms and $500 to $700 for shared rooms. The majority of SCU off-campus rental listings are for roommates in two-bedroom apartments – not single-family homes.
The committee meets again Monday, Aug. 2 at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers. Students plan to be there in force, according to the Facebook page “SCU Students Against the new Zoning Ordinance – Round 2!”
Santa Clara Not the Only College Town Dealing With Mini-Dorms
North of Santa Clara, Berkeley also grapples managing a growing number of mini-dorms. Last January, the San Francisco Chronicle profiled a Berkeley mini-dorm with about 15 students living in 11-bedroom house – one bedroom shared by three students was the former living room.
Berkeley simply regulates mini-dorm operation directly, defining a mini-dorm as “any building in an R-1, R-1A, R-2 R-2A or R-3 Zoning District that contains a dwelling unit that is occupied by six or more unrelated persons over the age of eighteen years.” Permitted sororities, fraternities and student co-ops aren’t mini-dorms if they have resident managers.
Berkeley requires administrative use – discretionary – permits to add fifth bedrooms to houses, and public hearings to add any more. Landlords who allow properties to become public nuisances are penalized, and repeat offenders can be forced to tear down additions. Berkeley’s planning commission is reportedly also considering annual permits for landlords renting to large numbers of students.
Berkeley is also home to the oldest student housing co-op in the country – reducing residents’ room and board costs by almost half. In addition, co-ops give students hands-on experience in self-governance and shared responsibility – including two to five weekly hours of maintenance and housework.