UNC student leader will ask Chapel Hill to lift town occupancy limit

tgrubb@newsobserver.comMarch 23, 2014 

  • What’s next?

    The Town Council will meet at 7 p.m. Monday at the Southern Human Services Center, 2501 Homestead Road in Chapel Hill.

— UNC’s student body president will ask the Town Council on Monday to lift the four-person cap on the number of unrelated people allowed to live in a single-family house.

The council typically hears a petition like this at one meeting, then talks about it at a future meeting.

Chapel Hill’s occupancy limit was set in 2003 to ease noise and traffic congestion in neighborhoods surrounding campus, where student residents have been replacing longtime families.

In February, UNC Student Body President Christy Lambden started the petition after months of research that he said showed the rule hasn’t helped.

“Instead, students are being evicted from their homes in the middle of the academic year and are facing the undue burden of finding affordable replacement housing,” he said. “The occupancy rule – combined with the lack of affordable off-campus housing and limited on-campus housing availability – forces students farther from campus and into even more residential communities.”

The change will help Northside, Pine Knolls and other neighborhoods facing increased housing pressures, because if more students live together that leaves more houses available for families and other permanent residents, Lambden said.

Lambden said in an email that he lives in off-campus housing with three roommates.

Rick Bradley, UNC’s associate director of housing and residential education, said about half the university’s 18,000 undergraduate students live on campus. That does not include roughly 1,300 students who live at the UNC-owned but privately managed Granville Towers complex on West Franklin Street.

Roughly 220 on-campus beds were empty when the last fall semester count was taken, he said. Some rooms remain empty because they don’t fit individual student needs, he added.

The town’s biggest concern with over-occupancy is resident safety, said Matt Sullivan, the town’s legal adviser and interim executive director for planning and sustainability. The town is not trying to micromanage how landlords and property owners conduct their business, he said.

“I have seen and dealt with situations where students and renters have been placed at significant risk,” Sullivan said.

Local landlord Mark Patmore said he doesn’t expect the petition to change local rules.

Patmore and landlord Jim Bulbrook, both of whom own rental houses in the Northside community, said student residents move people in all the time who are not on the lease. Landlords have little recourse to kick them out or make sure occupancy rules are being followed, Patmore said.

Northside is a historically black, working-class neighborhood north of West Rosemary Street, from Carrboro to Church Street in Chapel Hill.

Bulbrook and his wife, Whitney Long, were fined $63,500 last year for violating the town’s occupancy rules and state building and fire codes when town inspectors found 12 girls living in a house they own on North Street closer to downtown. Sullivan said the fines have not been paid.

Bulbrook said the town is selectively enforcing the rules by only investigating if someone complains. Landlords want to follow the rules and understand they are meant to protect the neighborhood character, he said.

But neighbors also have to realize the reality of the situation, Bulbrook said.

“When you live downtown surrounded by a university, you expect students to live nearby,” he said.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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