Council renegotiates motions to limit rental occupancy, caps number of adults to five


Mikinna Kerns/Iowa State Daily

Iowa State Student Body Vice President Cody smith addresses the the City Council on Nov. 14 regarding the City Council’s decision pertaining to limiting occupancy in rental units.

Alex Connor

The Ames City Council motioned Tuesday for the city staff to draft an ordinance that would restrict rental occupancy based on the number of bedrooms in a house, as well as off-street parking spaces—with a cap of five adults in a single unit.

The ordinance is part of the council’s attempt to better address rental-occupied housing in Ames after the issue made its way to the council’s forefront this fall when the state legislature passed a law stating that cities may not restrict rental housing based on familial status.

Currently, Ames has an ordinance in place that restricts the occupancy of a rental house to three non-familial individuals. On Jan. 1, 2018, however, the city’s current ordinance will no longer be in compliance with the state.

The motion to draft an ordinance comes after months of deliberations among the council and various housing stakeholders such as neighborhood associations, landlords and students.

Motions made by the City Council for the ordinance include:

  • 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

For neighborhood associations, such as the South Campus Neighborhood Association (SCAN), their main concern regarding the ordinance is to retain the integrity of their houses as well as “maintain a reasonable balance between long and short-term residents to foster a sense of community.”

For students and landlords, however, their main concern regarding rental housing and the ordinance to be drafted include tying off-street parking to the number of bedrooms, something they feel is an “arbitrary number.”

In a presentation in advance of the nearly three-hour discussion held Tuesday on rental occupancy, SCAN board member Leslie Kawaler offered to the council an alternative to what the council had previously been considering: tying the number of bedrooms to the number of adult occupants plus one.

Kawaler feared that if the city adopted a “plus one” policy in its ordinance, the SCAN neighborhood would jump from 360 rentals in its houses to possibly having up to 445.

Instead, she proposed, the city limit occupancy to either the number of legal bedrooms or to three adults and eliminate the “plus one.”

SCAN also requested the council “require each adult tenant to have an appropriate off-street parking space in driveway.”

“I think this a fair compromise between competing interests,” Kawaler said.

For the nine students who spoke during the council meeting, however, limiting the number of occupancy to off-street parking was something they vehemently disagreed with.

“It just doesn’t make sense that there are going to be empty bedrooms because they want to keep the cars off the street,” Dexter Hooyer, freshman in aerospace engineering, said.

Additionally, Student Government passed a resolution at its meeting last Wednesday encouraging the City Council to not adopt a clause tying occupancy to off-street parking.

“We are fine with compromise — we are fine with the number of bedrooms and the cap seems reasonable to us… off-street parking does not make sense,” said Cody Smith, Student Government vice president.

Ultimately, after nearly an hour of debate within the council, they decided to withdraw the previous motion to add a “plus one” to the ordinance as had been requested by SCAN. The council also decided to keep the motion regarding off-street parking.

For Smith, this was disappointing. He said he feels that in having the restriction, the council is ignoring the specific situation that students are in.

“Everybody has to find a place to live here,” Smith said. “If you can’t find a place to live that is affordable here, people aren’t going to move here. That’s just how it is.”