COLUMBIA — Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser wants to add more teeth to the city's policy about the number of unrelated people living in one house.
City law states only three to four unrelated people can live in one residence, depending on the property's zoning. She wants to make breaking this law a nuisance violation, which would make it easier to enforce because nuisance activities have a stiff penalty.
"We've tried all the things in our toolbox, and we haven't been able to solve the problem yet," she said.
Leigh Britt, Office of Neighborhood Services manager, wrote a report to the Columbia City Council on how to reduce violations among renters.
Her report suggests adding this violation to the city's list of nuisance activities, which include gambling, noise violations and other crimes. If a property has repeat nuisance violations, the city can deem it a "chronic nuisance" and close it for a year.
"If a property is closed for a year, it is going to put a significant financial burden on a property owner, so it's going to be incentive for them to make sure there are no zoning violations," Britt said.
Nauser said college students don't know the zoning law and break it unintentionally. She hopes if the city educates tenants about occupancy limits, fewer people will break the law, which would lead to a lighter workload for the city's three rental property inspectors.
Britt also hopes to educate more renters about the law.
"We don't want to give people a free pass when they violate the law, but we need to make sure they know what the city zoning law is," she said.
The report also suggests that the city always inspect properties when they change hands. Britt said this would be an opportunity for her office to let new owners know about the city's rental laws. Nauser said she expects these changes to come before the council in a month or two.