‘Striking a balance’: Students, landlords and homeowners diverge on next step for city

Earlier this year, the Iowa Legislature passed a law pitting Ames residents against each other.

On one side were landlords and property managers, breathing a sigh of relief that Ames can no longer restrict occupancy based on familial status. On the other side were neighborhood associations, fearful that without the ordinance, their neighborhoods and houses would become largely renter-occupied.

Caught in the middle? Students — unaware of the large impact their temporary presence has on Iowa’s laws and Ames’ ordinances on housing.

Working under a deadline of Jan. 1, 2018, the city has discussed limiting low-density residential housing based on student status, number of bedrooms and even parking spaces. Other issues have been raised, too, such as: Is the city taking a proactive or reactive approach to rental enforcement? Which is the better option? 

As a way to better understand the issue of housing in Ames — specifically relating to rentals in single-family residential homes and neighborhoods — and its impact on students, the Iowa State Daily has created a series of articles looking at the issue that affects our city, our residents, our landlords and our students.

Below are interviews with more than 20 city, student and university officials and stakeholders on how rental housing directly, and indirectly, impacts them.

Have questions or opinions related to this issue? We’d love to hear them. Email the Daily’s editor in chief at [email protected]


Rooted in contention: Ordinance has divisive history with housing stakeholders

In a string of letters to the editor published in the Iowa State Daily in 2003, students expressed deep discontent for Ames’ recent decision to aggressively enforce over-occupancy housing code violations.

“I believe this is another example of how the city cruelly treats the college students here,” one senior wrote. “After my experience, I want to get as far away from this city as possible.”

The issue of rental-housing occupancy is something that has existed for years in Ames, as students at Iowa State have looked to move in and rent houses in the neighborhoods that surround campus.

The city ordinance – that has been around since the 1970s — was that no more than three unrelated people could live in a house together.

Over the years, the issue of enforcement has resurfaced, such as in 2002 when Ames City Council passed an ordinance that they would fine tenants and landlords who are in violation of the housing code.

“Before the city of Ames bites the hand that feeds it, I would consider easing some of the student-complicating ordinances that only promote tension between the “townies” and the students,” an alumnus wrote. “After all, Ames is still a college town.”

From a neighborhood perspective, however, the ordinance served as a form of protection, stability and investment to the community.

“Students might not agree with the city’s zoning ordinance, but they can protect themselves if they know what it is,” three neighborhood associations wrote in a letter to the Daily.

Steve Schainker has been the city manager of Ames for 35 years and in his time here he understands that how people view the ordinance depends on their perspective.

“It was a rational basis on deciding how many could be in a rental unit,” Schainker said. “Depending on your viewpoint you can see it as more or less effective.”

There have been questions in the past as to if this issue is one for the city to handle, or if the responsibility is on the university.

“It’s for both of us. It’s on the city to maintain neighborhoods and it’s our job to figure out ways, pass laws, to make sure those are livable neighborhoods.”

Schainker said the university’s role is in determining how much housing it will make available for students on campus, which then drives how many students need to rent houses in Ames, among the other options.

Over the years, Schainker said another top concern for the city has been to provide housing that is as safe as it can be for those living there.

“Government gets involved to protect the third party, the tenants,” Schainker said. “We have to create health and safety standards and make sure they’re met so that tenants are protected.”

In February 2004, the Ames Rental Property Association filed a declaratory judgement in Story County — which determines the rights of parties without ordering anything to be done — requesting the Ames Municipal Code definition of “family” be declared “in violation of the equal protection clauses.”

The city, according to a Supreme Court of Iowa case, denied the allegations. The Ames Rental Property Association filed an appeal.

And in July of 2007, with a contested vote of 4-3, the Supreme Court of Iowa ruled the Ames ordinance “is rationally related to the government’s interest in providing quiet neighborhoods.” Additionally, “it does not offend the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution or the United States Constitution.”

“Certainly this ordinance is imprecise and based on stereotypes,” the Supreme Court of Iowa wrote. “Nevertheless, it is a reasonable attempt to address concerns by citizens who fear living next door to the hubbub of an ‘Animal House.’”

After being found constitutionally sound, the occupancy ordinance would again fall to the wayside. That is until Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, introduced legislation in 2011 stating Iowa cities cannot limit occupancy in rental housing based on familial status.

It wasn’t until 2017, however, in a Republican-controlled state Legislature that he was able to successfully push House File 134 through.

Former Gov. Terry Branstad signed the legislation into law this past spring. The House file states a city shall not, after Jan.1, 2018, adopt or enforce any regulation or restriction related to the occupancy of residential rental property based upon the existence of familial or nonfamilial relationships between the occupants of such rental property.

Here lies the issue the city currently faces: What should Ames do next?

“The talks now are, do we want to put any limits on, and if they do what would you limit? Will it be based on whether you’re related or not. Should we do it to a set number? These are just a few options we can propose to City Council,” Schainker said.

 — Alex Connor and Tristan Wade


Dangerous housing: Services available to combat legal, rental disputes

Tim Burroughs, sophomore in supply chain management, wanted to live somewhere that was cheap and close to campus.

In doing this, however, he was met with problems such as black mold growing on the wall; water coming through the walls, out the carpet; and down to the basement; insects living in the carpet and a strong, distinct odor.

“The owner only contacted us when we have to pay rent,” Burroughs said, recollecting the rental house he lived in last year.

When bothered with a broken toilet, Burroughs was told to “fix it yourself” by his landlord.

“I got sick there more often than I did living anywhere else,” Burroughs said.

Yet the landlord never came to inspect the building during Burroughs’ stay, according to Burroghs.

In the midst of the school year, students are starting to talk about where they will live next year. For most students, finding housing can either be smooth sailing or utter turmoil.

Finding a property listed at an affordable price with a quality location and nice amenities — although ideal — is not the reality for some students.

For some, the issue may begin with the landlord or owner of the rental property.

If so, there are resources that exist that students and tenants can use for filtering quality properties before signing a contract. These include the city’s official code, Rent Smart Ames and Student Legal Services.

“We often forward students to Student Legal Services for lease issues,” said Sara Van Meeteren, building official for the Inspection Division of Ames.

Lease disputes and property management issues make up 25 percent of the traffic that Student Legal Services receives, said Michael Levine, attorney at Student Legal Services.

Issues in property management often tend to stem from seasonal changes. For example, students may face flooding or water damage due to holes in the property during the rainy season. Additionally, students may face excessive heat or cold exposure in summer and winter due to a broken air conditioning and heating systems.

“Read the lease [because] it is very important that students understand their responsibilities from the get-go,” Levine said.

Levine also emphasized the potential dangers of subleasing, particularly if landlords don’t check the property before a sub-leaser’s move-in date.

The danger arises when damage was done to the property under the former resident, but the sub-leaser may be held liable for all damages that occurred under the former tenant.

Students are encouraged to reference the online Renter’s Rules document on Student Legal Services website.

Additionally, renters can find more information from Chapter 562A of the Iowa Code, which is the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Law.

“The number one issue students face with landlords is getting their security deposit back,” Levine said.

Students should also beware of hidden clauses in leases, specifically clauses related to move-out dates.

Levine described the fine print in some contracts that state one must notify landlords a certain number of days before move-out, otherwise the lease will be extended — sometimes by even a few months. This clause may cause renters additional payments and delay getting the security deposit back

The key to solving this issue, Levine said, is to read the whole lease.

“You can never be too familiar with your lease,” Levine said.

When describing the characteristics of a poor landlord or those property owners known for poor property management, Levine said there are not any individual landlords that may cause major problems since different areas face different problems.

This may make it hard for renters to pinpoint the best properties, but Levine urged students to conduct a thorough inspection of a property before signing the lease.

“There’s inspections, and then there are inspections,” Levine said, emphasizing the importance of thoroughly looking over the potential property.

Students are advised to take the time to thoroughly inspect complexes before signing the lease, rather than skimping out on inspecting because they’re worried about inconveniencing the current tenants.

Levine said it is the student’s responsibility to return the property at the end of the lease in the same condition it was in on move-in, minus ordinary wear and tear.

This means students properly documenting the conditions when moving in with photos, notices to the landlord and inspection reports to avoid any fines that may come at the end of the lease.

“Conducting a thorough inspection is an area that I would stress, because it seems like more and more people are finding conditions they did not expect to see when moving in,” Levine said.

Students can set up a meeting with an attorney by phone at 515-294-0978 or stop by their office in Room 0367 of the Memorial Union regarding issues they may be facing with their lease.

“We are focused on the law and how the law can remedy the situation,” Levine said.

— Dawit Tilahun


Ames City Council stresses community input on occupancy ordinance

A balance.

This is what Ames City Councilwoman Gloria Betcher is searching for in considering the needs of both homeowners and students in the ongoing discussion of occupancy ordinances in Ames.

And with the passage of a six-month moratorium on new rental permits, the City Council hopes to find much needed answers in light of the changing occupancy ordinance.

The rationale for the moratorium is to “provide a temporary means to protect neighborhoods by preserving the current level of rental properties in the city,” according to city documents.

Mayor-elect John Haila said he feels the moratorium is “a good idea.”

“We need to catch our breath and not do something that we later have regret[s] or unintended consequences. It’s a good short-term pause,” Haila said. “It gives us a chance to catch our breath and have council go through and weigh all the options, it gives staff time.”

Haila said the moratorium is in place to protect property owners from buying properties without knowing how they can profit from them and how many tenants they can have.

The City Council’s search for answers has also generated many questions, namely how to balance the needs of several different groups.

A long-standing ordinance in Ames states that no rental property could have more than three unrelated people living within it is set to change on Jan. 1, 2018.

The consensus among council members is that the moratorium allows the city time to decide how to address concerns with rental properties having an inappropriate number of tenants. However, the council intends to examine how to achieve more of a balance in neighborhoods between rentals and homeowners, as well.

What makes this quest for answers even more complex is the variation in needs among the groups set to be affected. Students need affordable rent, landlords need to profit and homeowners need peace and quiet.

Councilwoman Gloria Betcher, who is also an adjunct associate professor of English, described the need as “neighborhood stability.” Betcher represents the First Ward, which encompasses much of the student housing immediately south and southeast of campus.

“My take on all of this rental housing is that we need to strike a balance,” Betcher said. “We need to strike a balance between what students need and what homeowners need and what the neighborhoods need. So I see the moratorium as a tool for us to be able to figure out how to balance those needs.”

While landlords and those attempting to sell their houses to them will certainly be dismayed by the moratorium, each group involved is being forced to sacrifice one of their main concerns.

Students will have no new rental properties to choose from for six months.

Homeowners and neighborhood associations will have to accept that houses that already have a rental permit will potentially be increasing the number of tenants, a concern often voiced by Betcher. A concern that is inflamed with the impending disintegration of Ames’ rental occupancy ordinance.

Betcher said she had not thought about the moratorium in terms of who it may affect negatively the most, but said she feels those who may have planned to sell their house to a buyer that wished to turn the property into a rental may be those left in the least fortunate position.

Although the moratorium is temporary, there is no telling how it may or may not affect the rental market in Ames.

Betcher said she did not think the moratorium would have a “tremendous impact” on students. “A lot of people have already signed leases for the entire year.” Betcher cited the same reason for thinking it will not have a large effect on landlords either.

“I think anybody who says that homeowners’ priorities should take precedence is wrong, and anybody who says that students’ needs should take precedence is wrong,” Betcher said.

Councilman Tim Gartin, who represents the Second Ward, feels that the moratorium is a very good example of how city government has to balance the needs of various groups. While Gartin supports the moratorium, he felt it necessary to acknowledge how temporary it is.

“The moratorium is really just a pause button and does not accomplish much long-term,” Gartin said. “It gives the opportunity to formulate long-term solutions.”

Gartin added he was grateful for the hard work and time many citizens put in over the multiple hearings on the moratorium. He stressed the importance of community input in conjunction with heavy lifting from city staff helping the council to arrive at what he feels is a satisfactory result.

Councilman Peter Orazem, who represents the Third Ward, expressed skepticism at how effective the outgoing ordinance was in the first place, but said the moratorium was necessary to limit the uncertainty of those affected by the ordinance.

“Our responsibility as City Council is to make sure that we make the rule changes in an expeditious manner so that we minimize the amount of uncertainty in the market and that was the way to handle it, and I thought that was a reasonable thing to do,” Orazem said.

Orazem expressed hope that both the rule change and moratorium can lead to more desirable long-term solutions.

“If the ‘three unrelated individuals [rule]’ was so successful, why were they getting so many rentals in the first place?” Orazem said. “…Obviously one of the possibilities is by restricting each house to three people, you increase the number of houses you need for that purpose and so coming up with something a little more rational is likely to reduce the pressure on housing.”

Orazem is retiring from City Council in January and David Martin will be taking his place.

“I think the moratorium is a wise idea because we are under the gun in order to fix an ordinance that is going to be illegal as of January 1,” Martin said. “So the moratorium gives us time to figure out how to replace it in a way that would provide some continuity.”

— K Rambo


StuGov addresses rental housing, advocates for better use of existing resources

For Kody Olson, Student Government’s senior director of governmental affairs, and Ames City Council Ex-Officio Robert Bingham, addressing the upcoming occupancy ordinance has been a contentious and often lonely battle for the two Iowa State students.

Standing in front of the Ames City Council in September, Olson had a plea: Please keep students in your mind.

“The city of Ames should be doing everything in its power to make sure living here is as easy as possible,” he said, specifically in light of possible tuition increases.

During a council meeting just two weeks before, the language surrounding students had transitioned into a negative connotation. A South Campus Area Neighborhood representative said if occupancy is not restricted in some shape or form, their neighborhood would inevitably turn into a “student slum.”

The question the council then prompted to investigate being: Can we limit occupancy based on student status?

“Student is not a protected class, so they can discriminate or categorize based on that, which I’m thoroughly opposed to,” Bingham said in a previous interview.

This resonated with Bingham.

“It was very clear that they don’t have an issue with renters; they have an issue with student renters,” he said.

As the discussions continued and the council moved away from limiting occupancy based on student status but rather by the number of bedrooms and off-street parking, Student Government has advocated for the position they believe works best for the students: number of bedrooms.

In a resolution introduced as new business during the last Student Government Senate meeting and to be debated Wednesday, Nov. 8 — Sen. Ian Steenhoek, who authored the legislation, is requesting the Student Government ask the city to not adopt an off-street parking clause into its new ordinance.

“The availability of living space should not be tied to ownership or use of a vehicle, as the city of Ames provides several sustainable forms of transportation, such as CyRide, biking lanes and trail systems,” the resolution reads. “All residents should have the right to live where they choose and with whom without arbitrary limits or limits tied to available parking.”

The Senate will decide Wednesday whether they support this decision to request that the council not include off-street parking as a clause in its new ordinance. If so, Student Government will send the resolution to council members ahead of its next meeting, which is Nov. 14.

Additionally, Student Government is also working to address other issues regarding rental housing in Ames for students, including an initiative being spearheaded by Vice President Cody Smith to revamp Rent Smart Ames.

Rent Smart Ames is a resource available to landlords and tenants with the “expertise to make renting in Ames a smart choice.”

Campaigning on “reinventing residency,” Smith and President Cody West promised to deliver on finding a middle ground with landlords and property managers to push back lease signing dates as well as refigure Rent Smart Ames.

Student Government put the initial funding toward Rent Smart Ames five to six years ago.

“The way the city described it to me was that it was an intern for the city that was also in Student Government who had done the project,” Smith said. “So when he or she had left, it was just kind of done.”

Rent Smart Ames also ties in with the Iowa Housing Search, which Smith feels is currently underused as a resource and would like to see it more specific to Ames.

“We’re going to have a discussion with our IT director to see if we could move RentSmart to Student Government’s page and that way we would have a specific person dedicated each year to up-keeping it,” Smith said.

Additionally, Smith would also like to see a rating system during his administration that would rank housing in Ames on things such as its proximity to campus, CyRide accessibility and rent prices.

“I essentially want to use Rent Smart Ames to encourage businesses to use student-friendly practices,” Smith said.

To do this, Smith said, Student Government would establish a criteria and then go to companies to discuss their program and what they are looking for in student housing.

“And if they meet our criteria, we’ll give them whatever we decided the certification is … that will become a part of the culture at Iowa State and Ames,” Smith said. “So, as a student coming in through orientation, I know that if it’s Rent Smart approved — then it’s probably a good company and I can trust putting my resources there.”

All in all, Smith would like to see existing resources be put to better use to create better housing accommodations.

“I view it as our role because it is an issue that students face … I’d like to partner with resources that we already have on campus,” Smith said.

Additionally, he would like to see more of an encouragement for the use of off-campus rentals, even in the Department of Residence.

“If the Department of Residence knows that students are going to move off-campus, then maybe we can direct them to this program,” Smith said. “That way, we know that students are getting good care and making sure that they are not being conned out of any extra money.”

— Alex Connor


Ames Rental Association pushing for better enforcement over current occupancy restrictions

Should the city adopt an ordinance restricting occupancy in rental properties in Ames based on parking status, Tony McFarland fears it is unnecessary and goes against Iowa State’s claim as a walking campus.

McFarland, who works with the Ames Rental Association — a corporation comprised of people who own residential real estate within the city — said additional concerns include property rights of landlords.

Overall, McFarland feels the city should instead take a more proactive approach to rental enforcement instead of implementing more restrictions.

Occupancy concerns regarding rental properties have been a concern for many housing stakeholders this year, specifically after the state legislature passed a law stating Iowa cities cannot limit occupancy based on familial status.

“The ordinance has existed in Ames for a long time, but it pits us against a few different requirements that landlords have,” McFarland said. “Such as, landlords are not allowed to ask familial status. But the city of Ames requires us to ask familial status to determine if somebody would be allowed to rent in a specific home.”

For years, he said, they have tried to implement a change within the city to get rid of the familial status requirement. In the spring, the state legislature overturned Ames’ ordinance with the legislation introduced by Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, argued against the bill in its entirety, citing the occupancy ordinance was something Ames needed.

“I’ve been listening to people on occupancy and density issues for quite a long time,” Quirmbach said. “The community does need to have some way to limit over occupancy.”

Quirmbach also opposed the legislation because he feels students will “lose long term” because of the deteriorating housing stock regarding over occupancy, and that students would not save money by having more people in a house as landlords could just raise rents. 

Quirmbach was also concerned that should the legislation pass — which it did — the city would not have enough time to prepare research for an alternative to the current ordinance.

Almost immediately, the city began to weigh its next step.

“I think the challenge for City Council now is to come up with some other way to regulate over-occupancy,” Quirmbach said.

In a four-hour workshop held mid-August, city officials invited Ames landlords, property managers and neighborhood associations to gauge what should be done next.

As to whether or not the city should regulate occupancy at all, the majority of landlords said no. However, the neighborhood representatives said yes.

Should occupancy be enforced — the city officials found — the landlords were in preference of limiting occupancy by bedroom whereas the neighborhood associations preferred restriction by the number of people.

“We were expecting some [reaction from the city] but we were hoping they would just take it slow and just figure out: Do we need another ordinance here or not?” McFarland said. “So, we were hoping for nothing and let’s enforce the law — that’s part of the problem, enforcement in the city.”

Proactive enforcement, McFarland said, would be the most optimal for his association and the landlords it represents.

But as the conversation between city officials and stakeholders continued, a more hyper-focused regulatory idea began to form: restrict occupancy based on students.

At the Oct. 24 City Council meeting, the council moved away from the possibility of rental occupancy based on student status and instead toward an ordinance based off the number of bedrooms.

“We’re very happy with the shift from student regulation to just number of bedrooms, plus one,” McFarland said.

However, McFarland said they are displeased with the parking tie to occupancy.

“It creates a significant problem because this is a community that stresses our green initiatives,” McFarland said. “And then we want to tie someone’s ability to rent a property to their ownership of a vehicle? That’s a big concern to us.”

While the city is still weighing its options on what is best — the Jan. 1, 2018 deadline of when Ames will have to abide by the state law looms closer. To buy more time, the council passed a six-month moratorium that restricts the ability for new rental units to be created in specific neighborhoods.

Then neighborhoods impacted include South Campus Neighborhood, West Side, Oakwood Forest, Old Edwards, College Creek, Oak Riverside and Colonial Village.

“We want neighborhoods to be in good shape. We want rental homes to be well taken care of,” McFarland said. “But… I think it is important to convey that we are not necessarily opposed to all regulation in general. There may be some occupancy regulations that make sense — according to square foot, for instance.

“There are ideas that we are open to discussing for occupancy, but like I said, our stance is first let’s do some proactive enforcement and let’s see if we even need another occupancy regulation.”

— Alex Connor



‘We’re not anti-rental or anti-student’: Neighborhood association shares perspective

Students that live in neighborhoods that surround campus don’t always realize that their next-door neighbors may be a family. 

Sometimes students and these families living in the same neighborhood can disagree and clash over issues and cause a rift in these communities.

Neighborhood associations in these areas don’t want to push students away from them, said Barbara Pleasants, current president of the South Campus Area Neighborhood Association (SCAN).

“We’re not anti-rental or anti-student, but it changes the nature of a neighborhood when a large portion of homes are occupied by people who come and go every year,” Pleasants said.

Pleasants said they want stability.

The Iowa Legislature passed a law last spring that rescinded an Ames ordinance that keeps more than three unrelated people from living in a house together, which had been in effect for years. So the City Council has been trying to figure out how to regulate student housing.

For Pleasants, this is not good news.

“When enforced, [the ordinance] was good. There are other problems that caused issues, but the occupancy ordinance helped us,” Pleasants said. “I don’t think anyone complained about the ordinance itself.”

Pleasants saw one of these other problems with the ordinance being the enforcement, or lack thereof.

“Enforcement is based on complaint. So nobody was going around checking who was in a house, it was up to neighbors to report violations,” Pleasants said.

Pleasants said she hasn’t seen the ordinance as properly enforced.

“The ordinance itself was about the best one could have though — it is very common all over the country in college towns because it works,” Pleasants said.

Pleasants said she hopes the city and the university will work together to solve some of these problems.

The South Campus neighborhood has seen a large shift away from family-centered houses, Pleasants said. Fern Kupfer, who founded SCAN, agrees.

Kupfer said she is also worried about what such a shift might have on affordable housing in the neighborhood.

“Preserving neighborhood integrity and keeping housing affordable is what we need to focus on,” Kupfer said. “It hurts the community when you basically have college slums.”

Kupfer moved out of the neighborhood due to how much she saw it changed. Pleasants, however, has stayed for the last 34 years. She said she doesn’t want to leave, and neither do any of the families there.

If they’re going to stay, Pleasants said that they need to find “creative solutions” to resolve the issues of a new ordinance to find something that works for everyone in the neighborhood.

Kupfer agreed, but still sees students as a large problem beyond just the occupancy ordinances.

“If you’re a homeowner, you don’t want to be in a neighborhood… [where you are] surrounded by students who are always partying,” Kupfer said.

— Tristan Wade


The role of residency: City, university discuss housing issues in Ames

For the first time in a while, Iowa State has more beds available to its students than it does students who need them.

Nine years ago, housing on-campus looked entirely different.

“Since 2008, demand for on-campus student housing has grown about 58 percent,” said Pete Englin, director of the Department of Residence. “We only had 7,900 people living on campus [which was] the lowest it had been since 1981.”

A constant, however, has been a draw for students to live in off-campus housing.

Brittney Rutherford, program coordinator for Iowa State, said when it comes to finding safe housing, “You first have to look at physical appearance [of the housing] to make sure it accommodates the students and that it aligns with state and university codes.

“When it comes to the students themselves, we educate and have the student wellness office. We make sure there are plans are in place for students in case of an emergency.”

And Iowa State is no stranger to accommodating students — particularly in 2008 when it experienced the uptick in need for on-campus housing and the lagging resources of what already existed.

In order to combat this, Iowa State needed to make some quick adjustments, such as building Geoffroy Hall, a new residence hall on Lincoln Way.

Now, accommodating housing for students is not as large a problem as it was back in 2008, Rutherford said, and neither is getting students the help they need.

“There’s help on the Iowa State website with many different avenues to help ISU students use the resources and come to talk to us,” Rutherford said. “If you’re having issues, they can be easily solved, and students can easily be helped. Please talk to us, our staff, we have departments to help you.”

This raises the question, however, what about students off campus — the ones who do not live in the jurisdiction of Iowa State?

“Our role is to come in and help someone if they need a place to live,” Rutherford said. “There are some resources that the university can help with, but not with the [off-campus] housing department.”

Student Legal Services is the proper place to go if a student is having issues with housing off-campus.

Englin listed some other issues students may run into, as well.

“In our case, if a student lives with a shortage of money and they come to us, [if the leases are run through Iowa State] we will release them from their contract,” Englin said. “If they are off-campus and they’ve signed a lease… there is very little we can do.

“What we will often do is refer them to Student Legal Services to see if there is anything in the lease agreement that they signed with someone else to see if it gives them any sort of flexibility and latitude,” he said.

Englin said another thing Iowa State does is to try and help find the source of a student’s financial struggles.

“We try to get the departments together and try to put a package together to help them financially. If a student is struggling with rent, then they’re struggling with tuition, and if they’re struggling with tuition, then they’re struggling buying books, and if they’re struggling buying books, then they’re struggling with class,” Englin said.

Many students choose off-campus because they feel it may be cheaper or will have more independence than on-campus. Englin negated this.

“We have a number of different price points on campus, and I would argue if you look at some of those apartment communities you can’t find cheaper housing in the Ames community,” Englin said.

Englin also touched on a new law passed by the Iowa Legislature this year that declared a current Ames housing ordinance unconstitutional.

Currently, the city of Ames limits the number of people in rental units to one family or three unrelated people.

The current ordinance in Ames, which says that cities may not restrict occupancy based on familial or non-familial status will be moot after Jan. 1, 2018 when the law goes into effect.

“Now, it will be interesting to see the changes that the state made around how many unrelated people can live in a residence,” Englin said. “Because there are times in our history at Iowa State you might have five, six, seven, eight people living in a house they all rent. You know they’re putting $150 toward that. They changed that to [three] people living in a building, but what does that mean for the future?”

— Ryan Pattee



Conversion homes come with benefits, negatives when renting

Taizhong Huang, a senior in software engineering, lives in a rental property with 26 single-room apartments.

“There is only one kitchen, on the first floor,” Huang said. “Fortunately, I don’t cook much.”

This type of house is often referred to as a conversion home, and is just one of the many housing options students can choose from while living in Ames. Other options include, but are not limited to, apartment complexes, houses, residence halls, trailers and for the select few, living at home and commuting.

A conversion house is a house that is split into multiple units. Commonly built for one family to begin with, these houses are restructured, or converted, into multiple units. Although less common than apartment buildings or traditional single-family houses, this style can be found throughout Ames.

These houses can range from two units up to over 20 units. A house at 233 Sheldon Ave has 26 single-room apartments — where Huang lives — for example.

Jane Rongerude, assistant professor in community and regional planning, said one reason for these houses becoming converted is because of a shift in need. Large houses that were once filled with wealthy people became abandoned and hard to fill, causing a need to be broken into smaller units.

However, this isn’t the only reason.

Property owner Ed Hendrickson, Jr. has worked in rental property in Ames for more than 30 years. He rents out two duplexes. He said that a reason these houses began to be converted was because of a city ordinance.

“[The City of Ames] had a law that you could not rent to more than three unrelated people, but most students are not related,” Hendrickson said. “So, if you had a five-bedroom house, you could convert it into a two-bedroom and a three-bedroom duplex, and then you could legally rent to five [unrelated] people.”

The current law states that a family, which is any number of people living together related by blood, marriage, adoption, etc., can live in a single unit. Up to three unrelated tenants can live in a single unit.

Although this law skewed how property management companies and homeowners rented their houses, converting these homes became a common option, and has even brought a benefit.

“The advantage is that you can legally rent to more people,” Hendrickson said.

However, the law will be changed in the next few months.

“It was challenged in the courts, and the courts determined we were discriminating non-traditional families by enforcing it this way,” said Sara Van Meeteren, the city of Ames’ building official.

City Council still has details to work through as far as regulating these houses, Van Meeteren said.

“It’s probably going to be something tied to the house,” Van Meeteren said. “So it could be so many people per bedroom, or per parking space, something like that.”

Until that law is changed, however, landlords who have adopted this style of housing have created a benefit– generating more income, Hendrickson said.

There are not only benefits to renters and property managements, but also tenants as well.

“A lot of the utilities are already paid for, because you can’t break it into units,” said Logan Cooper, a junior in finance who lives in a house with six units. “That’s one of the best [advantages].”

Rongerude said that tenants might have a disadvantage when living in these converted homes, however.

“There’s a lot more wear and tear on a building when more people are living in it than were intended to,” Rongerude said. “I think that generally, landlords are [maintaining these houses], but because there’s a profit motivation it seems to accompany less interest in maintenance.”

Even with Rongerude’s thoughts on landlords and issues they may have maintaining their properties, it doesn’t affect all tenants.

“This is my second year living here,” Cooper said about his current apartment. “It’s pretty cheap for how close it is to campus. I’m moving out [after the lease ends] because my roommate is graduating.”

— Tara Larson


Iowa State graduates double as landlords, urge safety and comfort

A three-story, yellow house sits at Seventh Street and Douglas Avenue.

Built in 1904 by the former mayor of Ames, George Baker, the house is just a block away from a bus stop. It’s also next to a bank, post office and a grocery store. Additionally, it is only a short walk from Main Street, which includes an abundance of local businesses.

Surrounded by a tall wooden fence, the house boasts a backyard with a chicken coop and garden. The property is owned by Ames residents Clark Colby and Kristen Greteman.

In their late 20s and fresh out of grad school, the couple doubles as landlords. For nearly four years, Colby and Greteman have lived in this old-style home in the historic district in which they also rent to Iowa State students, faculty and citizens of Ames.

“Becoming a landlord at a young age is a slow process because it does require money, but in the end is worth it,” Colby said.

The house was being foreclosed on in 2014 when Colby and Greteman stumbled upon it. Just after grad school, Colby had been living with his parents in order to save money for a property. Though this one needed a lot of work, Colby and Greteman decided to buy it.

“Clark did most of the plumbing and some electrical work in the first year,” Greteman said, recalling one of their first memories in their house. Once, while Colby was attempting to fix the radiators throughout the house, one on the second floor leaked through to the kitchen.

“We grabbed all our pots and anything we could to catch the leaking water,” Greteman said.

They have since fixed the radiators and installed new windows to meet city code regulations for rental houses.

Before they moved in, the backyard was just grass and a few plants. The couple’s first tenant, in 2014, helped them fill the backyard with different vegetable plants.

“Some people might see the garden as messy,” Colby said. “But we thought the house could use more character.”

The house is split into separate apartments, so Colby and Greteman are able to live in as well as rent the different suites. Currently they have three tenants. Since that first year, Colby and Greteman have rented to a total of six people. Similar to the couple, most of the tenants were students or staff at Iowa State.

Both Colby and Greteman graduated from Iowa State with bachelor degrees in architecture. Then they both continued school to receive master’s degrees in architecture. Greteman also earned her master’s degree in community and regional planning and hopes to eventually pursue a doctorate.

Presently, Colby teaches a photography class for the College of Design at Iowa State.

Though they are fairly new to renting themselves, Greteman and Colby are knowledgeable about living situations in Ames. From living in the dorms, to Frederiksen Court, to the Campustown apartments and to renting in the West Ames area, the couple has seen it all. This helps them understand the wants and needs of their tenants.

Because of this, they believe that their current old-style home would be the ideal place for college students to live due to the tight-knit community and neighborhood atmosphere.

“We have gotten to know our neighbors across the street,” Greteman said, “They have lived in the same house for a long time and have seen residents come and go. They told us the history of our house and Clark will shovel their driveway in the winter.”

“I believe community is important for students’ success and the community we live in is different from any other community in Ames,” Greteman said. “The apartment I lived in on campus did not feel like a home. I wish that I had decided to move here earlier.”

Colby reiterated Greteman’s thoughts.

“Students do not have the chance to learn about the community of Ames while living directly on campus. They also need a comfortable, safe place to live that can be their home for their time at ISU.”

Eventually, Greteman and Colby hope to buy more properties in Ames to rent.

— Willa Colville


Rental housing a similar issue in other college towns

Like Iowa State, the University of Iowa and Iowa City have faced their own housing issues.

University of Iowa has a student population of 33,334, about 3,000 less students than Iowa State. The surrounding city has about 10,000 more people than Ames.

In June, the Iowa City City Council passed a roughly six-month moratorium on new rental permits and building permits that would enlarge existing rental properties, similar to the Ames moratorium.

This follows House File 134 being signed into law by former Gov. Terry Branstad which removes the city’s ability to enforce occupancy based on familial status.

Iowa City has a population of 74,398 compared to Ames’ 66,191. Iowa City residents and UI students struggle to find affordable housing. An article in The Gazette revealed that 61 percent of renters in Iowa City pay 30 percent or more of their income on rent. This compares to 59 percent of Ames renters.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines affordable housing as less than 30 percent of someone’s income, according to the Gazette.

In a letter to the Daily Iowan, a UI student and mother, Sheri Deal-Tyne, wrote about her experience being evicted by her landlord and struggling to find other housing options for her family.

“Because of the student-centered/landlord-controlled rental housing market in Iowa City, there is very little affordable family housing available. I have been searching for affordable, safe housing for my family and me since the summer of 2015,” Deal-Tyne wrote.

Off-campus housing difficulties are coupled with UI’s struggles to offer enough on-campus housing options for its students.

In 2016, 300 students were placed in expanded housing, the study-lounges in doors which are turned into dorms that holds up to eight people, according to the Daily Iowan. These issues were solved with the opening of a new dorm building.

This semester is the first time in years that the University of Iowa won’t use the study-lounges as housing for students, according to The Gazette.

While UI was trying to find additional housing for its incoming freshmen in 2016, emails were sent to returning student who planned on living on-campus, giving them the opportunity to cancel their housing contracts without being charged.

These issues are partially attributed to growing enrollment, similar to what Iowa State saw over the past decade.

— Dani Gehr

Previous reporting:

This project is part of the Daily’s initiative to take an in depth look at topics important to the community. Have an issue you’d like us to look into? Email the Daily’s editor in chief at [email protected]