City Council to assess R-1 zoning ordinance Tuesday

Friday, January 14, 2011 | 2:13 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Columbia City Council members plan to discuss Tuesday proposed amendments to the zoning ordinance related to the over-occupancy in rental units.

An issue of overcrowding in rental homes has lead council members to re-assess the Rental Conservation Law.

Leigh Britt, manager of Neighborhood Services, wrote in a memo to City Council on Dec. 13: “No more than three unrelated occupants are allowed in R-1 zoning and no more than four in other zoning districts. Tenants in excess of the city’s zoning ordinance create additional traffic, trash and noise in residential areas that are primarily single-family."

Inspectors from Neighborhood Services often find that it is hard to prove over-occupancy limit violations, Britt said.

“It can be a difficult thing to prove because sometimes the tenants and the property owner aren’t forthright in sharing that information with us,” Britt said.

It’s not just a matter of counting cars in the driveway; it’s more challenging than that, she said.

John Ott, president of the Grasslands Neighborhood Association, was in favor of the zoning ordinances. He said when the landlords or tenants break the rules and put more people in those single-family homes than the zoning allows for, it creates problems.

“There’s noise, there’s trash, the properties become devalued — they weren’t designed for that kind of use,” Ott said. “In R-1 areas especially, that zoning needs to be enforced; otherwise, it’ll be a factor in the decay of our neighborhoods, especially in the central part of the city.”

R-1 zones are neighborhoods with one-family-intended dwellings, according to the city's website.

According to the memo, proposed ordinance changes include:

  • Revocation of property owner’s rental certificate of compliance for three years when there is a conviction of an over-occupancy charge.
  • If an owner receives revocation of certificate of compliance, he or she may apply for a one-year provisional certificate of compliance entailing quarterly inspections to confirm the unit is in compliance with code and occupancy.
  • Removal of the ability to transfer a certificate of compliance when ownership of rental unit changes. The old certificate of compliance will expire with a new owner, and he or she must apply for a new one, which will increase the inspections on rental properties.

Britt said the discontinuance of transferring a certificate of compliance to a new owner will be the main change. Another important purpose of the amendment would be "to put more teeth to it and stiffen the penalties when there is a violation found," she said.

"I think that the bottom line on this is that if property owners are currently abiding by our city ordinances and the correct number of people are living in the units, then they wouldn't have a problem," Britt said.

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