Council approves first reading of rental occupancy ordinance, amends parking provision

Alex Connor

The Ames City Council approved the first passage of a rental occupancy ordinance that, if approved later this month, would restructure the way rental occupancy in Ames currently exists.

The city has been working toward crafting a new rental occupancy ordinance since July, after the Iowa Legislature passed a law stating cities cannot restrict rental housing based on familial status.

This means that on Jan. 1, 2018, Ames’ current ordinance that states no more than three unrelated people can live in a single-family rental home is not in compliance with the state.

Working under this looming deadline, the city has been working for months to draft a new ordinance that finally saw its first passage at the City Council meeting Tuesday night.

However, some council members and citizens were concerned about the language, intent and purpose of some of the provisions of the ordinance.

The proposed ordinance is based on the following provisions:

  • To use the city assessor’s bedroom count as the baseline for the number of bedrooms in a rental house; or the numbers established through the most recent rental inspection—whichever is most recent.
  • To adopt a limit of three people for one and two bedroom homes; and to have three, four and five bedroom homes equal to the number of adult occupants
  • One, two and three-bedroom rental houses are required to have two off-street parking spaces, whereas four or above rental houses must have the number of off-parking spaces equal to the number of bedrooms
  • To cap rental housing occupancy at five adults

In particular, many were concerned with the off-street parking requirement. During previous meetings, the Iowa State Student Government has been outspoken about the ordinance’s tie to parking and even passed a resolution in early November encouraging the council to reconsider the clause.

Others at the Tuesday council meeting were vocal about the off-street parking requirement and asked that the provision instead be based off “parking metrics” and not “number of bedrooms.” Additionally, some landlords felt it was infringing on their property rights for the council to restrict their ability to add additional parking spaces.

Adam Daniel, a landlord in Ames, was concerned about some of his properties. In an example, he said he had a four-bedroom house with two off-street parking spaces. Under the ordinance, he would only be able to have three people live in his rental.

“A as landlord, I can help the city to expand parking to off the street… You got a problem? I can help you with it. You guys won’t allow me to,” he said.

To better address some of the parking concerns, Councilwoman Bronwyn Beatty-Hansen motioned to amend the parking provision to state the “freezing of the current number of off-street parking spaces expires at the end of the moratorium” on April 30, 2018.

This, Beatty-Hansen said, will help buy the council more time to decide what to do about parking as it relates to rental housing.

Other council members such as Amber Corrieri, however, were opposed to the idea of approving an ordinance — even just as a first passage — that is not yet in its fullest form.

“I don’t buy into the argument that the sky is going to fall on January 1,” Corrieri said.

She encouraged the other council members to take into consideration the full effect this ordinance will have on the city of Ames and its residents.

“Why would we pass an ordinance? That just seems crazy to me, we’re all sitting here contemplating what we can do to make it better, or more balanced… but now we’re talking about just going ahead and passing this and making changes as we see fit later?” Corrieri said.

The discussion on the rental occupancy ended with Mayor Ann Campbell establishing a possible timeline for the ordinance.

Campbell said there is just one more meeting until Jan. 1, 2018, in which the council will need to waive second or third reads on the ordinance or call for a special meeting.

If the council decides on neither of those options, the ordinance will be decided upon at the first meeting of the year — after Jan. 1 — and will include a new council and mayor.