Landlords Win Reprieve From Controversial Rental Regulations

by Chris on March 20, 2011

Cities across the country appear to be taking a page from the same playbook when it comes to noise complaints.  Out-of-control student partying is prompting college towns across the country to look to landlords to stop the noise, trash and disruption that occurs in otherwise quiet neighborhoods.

But one city’s efforts may have gone too far.

In Duluth, Minnesota, a battle has been brewing for the past several months after the city council passed a number of rental restrictions that greatly impact landlords who rent to students.   

Last week, a judge granted landlords a temporary restraining order prohibiting the city from enforcing these measures, which were due to kick in March 14, until a court determines if the laws are overreaching.

One of the first efforts the Duluth city council took was to draw a line in the sand–literally, by marking a perimeter around neighborhoods where students at the local college campuses would look for housing. If a property fell within the perimeter, a property owner could not convert the residence to a rental if there was a existing rental within 300 feet.

This moratorium earned an angry response from the rental community, and even some city officials believed it may be unfair to punish everyone. So the city council began passing a series of more targeted “disincentives”– measures aimed at discouraging property owners from becoming landlords.  

For instance, the city is trying to impose a fee for converting a residence to a rental property. The fees are significantly higher – $3,500, if the landlord is planning to rent to roommates or multifamily.  The intent is to encourage landlords to rent only to single families, or better yet, not to rent at all. Additional fees are calculated based on the number of bedrooms.

Even more controversial however, are new regulations regarding parking. The measures require landlords to pay the city for use of street parking, or create their own off-street parking.

The city already passed a nuisance law that makes landlords accountable for students behavior, which includes late-nightgatherings, swearing, excessive pedestrian or vehicle traffic, and rowdy assemblies — apparently referring to protests or rioting.  Over Labor Day weekend last year, Duluth police stepped up patrols of off-campus activities.  They reported 26 party interventions, 25 underage consumption tags, 3 open container violations, 2 arrest warrants, a disorderly conduct, and someone caught urinating in public.  

A group of landlords in Duluth hired legal representation to fight the regulations, which some fear could force them out of business. Faced with the reality of a lawsuit, the council repealed the 300-foot moratorium rule, but intends to enforce the remaining rules including the rental fees and retain a moratorium on any new development of rental housing until an overall neighborhood plan is developed.

As the effective date for the regulations approached, the attorney for the landlords filed for a temporary restraining order to postpone enforcement. A judge approved the order, and the city has suspended rental licensing until the matter is resolved, either by settlement or in court.

The granting of the restraining order could be a sign that the judge detected merit in the landlords’ claims.

This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

jimmyd March 22, 2011 at 11:13 am

I think landlords have an obligation to the communities in which they own rental property. The “absentee landlord” image gives us all a bad name and results in the measures that Duluth thought they had to impose. Rather than band together and sue to have these measures struck down landlords should be crafting proposals that are more likely to produce the results the city is looking for but are not as draconian as the ones they imposed. No one wants to live in a neighborhood with a home rented to college students who race up and down the street playing loud music, who host countless late night parties. I own a single family home as a rental near a college campus and have not rented to students. The college should provide adequate housing for undergrads and the community could solve its problems by zoning land nearest to the college as multifamily/apartment for students unable to find room in dorms.

mdmead March 23, 2011 at 8:52 am

While I agree an absentee landlord can cause problems for a neighborhood, this issue seems to be for police and possibly school officials to handle. Laying the blame on landlords, and then unduly attacking their business with unreasonable fees and restrictions is wrong. The city is looking to take the easy way out here.

Bottom line is if laws (underage drinking, reckless driving, disturbing the peace, etc.) are being broken, the police need to ticket and/or jail the offenders. Schools usually have discipline policies that reach beyond the college campus and if they are violated, the students can be suspended.

It is in the best interest of a landlord to keep quality tenants, primarily for the protection of his/her property and business, and secondarily to be a good neighbor. But lawbreakers should primarily be handled by the police using local laws. If the lawbreakers were homeowners instead of renters, how would it be handled? What is the difference?

In this case, suing the city is a necessity.

Joel Longtine March 26, 2014 at 2:27 pm

A rental property recently opened up in my neighborhood. It was a 3 bedroom family home and has been converted to a duplex with 3 bedrooms each. In this case it appears the renters are primarily college students. The parking in this area has always been congested but now we are looking at an additional 6-10 cars trying to find parking on the street. I believe this landlord does not provide any off street parking. The number of cars may be even higher since friends and significant others park their cars off street during overnight visits. It also seems clear that some of these renters own more than one vehicle.

I do not support the 300 foot rule or limiting where college students can live. I do believe that landlords have an obligation to renters and neighborhoods to provide reasonable parking for their renters. The basic principle should be one off street parking space for each renter or two spaces per family. Landlords should not be allowed to increase their profits dramatically by changing the rental status from a 3 bedroom family home to essentially a 6 unit apartment complex without investing in increased parking capacity. This negatively effects the quality of life to the other residents while the landlord gets richer.

If this site’s mission is to promote the rights of rental business owners then it should also promote ethical standards for that business. I support laws that require landlords to provide parking or pay a fee and if they are willing to do neither i would support stricter criminal penalties for landlords.

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