chopped houses

Tara Larson

Students have several options for living in Ames.

Options include, but are not limited to, apartment complexes, houses, dorms, trailers and for the select few, living at home and commuting. One style of housing does not quite fit into any of these categories, however: conversion houses.

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, for example.

“There is only one kitchen, on the first floor,” Taizhong Huang, a senior in software engineering living in this house said. “Fortunately, I don’t cook much.”

Assistant professor in community and regional planning, Jane Rongerude, 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 over 30 years. He currently rents out two duplexes. He said that a reason these houses began to be converted was because of a law.

“[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 home owners rented out 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.

Former Governor Terry Branstad signed House File 134 in the spring. The file states that a city shall not, after January 1, 2018, adopt or enforce any regulation or restriction related to the occupancy of residential rental property that is based upon the existence of familial or nonfamilial relationships between the occupants of such rental property.

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

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

“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, according to Hendrickson: generating more income.

There are not only benefits to renters and property managements, but 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 believes 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.”