“The biggest issue is with people not knowing about the zoning,” said OMNA President Cindy Nebel.
Landlords sometimes purchase property and do not license it, then tell students only two renters need to sign the lease. Being first- time renters, students unknowingly end up in tricky situations. When inspectors come, they see more than two unrelated people living together.
Even if only two people are on the lease, the city can find out. In that situation, students are sometimes faced with the stress of finding new living arrangements.
Nebel said many students who lease unlicensed properties end up in unkempt or unsafe conditions. She does her best to be a good neighbor and help students who may be stuck and unaware of what an appropriate landlord-tenant relationship is.
“Dishonest landlords make it more difficult for those who are doing the right thing and getting licensed,” Nebel said. “Most of the time, the student is not even aware of what is wrong with the situation or that this ordinance exists. I have waited an entire year to report a violation because I did not want to put a burden on the student.”
When this ordinance is not enforced, backyards become parking lots.
“I am sure students would rather have a lawn than have to park on the grass because too many people are living there,” Nebel said.
Aside from putting students in potential danger, property values for family homes go down when this ordinance is not enforced.
“We are seeing a real decline in families moving into this area,” Nebel said. “We are becoming a minority, and having such a high concentration of student renters can be rough on houses.”
Nebel clarified that OMNA does not want to drive students from the neighborhood.
“We want to make sure a balance is kept between families and students,” Nebel said. “We really like living alongside students, and so do a lot of other people.”
Nebel said she has become close with her student neighbors throughout the years. Many of them even babysat her children.
“I do not want to live in a gated community,” Nebel said. “I enjoy the mix and living so close to the university.”
Students also enjoy living in a diverse neighborhood.
“It gives you a chance to be a part of the community and experience what life will be like in the future,” said junior psychology major Deidre May. “It also provides a way to get help if you need it.”
Nebel said OMNA will continue urging city officials to better enforce the ordinance with thorough inspections. Enforcement will also require cooperation from the Student Government Association.
“We are all for working with the city to figure out a way to enforce this zoning ordinance without it being detrimental to students,” said SGA President Chris Slattery.
Slattery said there is a benefit to living close to campus, but he realizes laws need to be enforced.
“Some students might perceive that leasing one of these unlicensed properties might do nothing but lower the cost,” Slattery said.
He also said having a mixed neighborhood is beneficial. Students learn how to engage in their community. In addition, many professors live close to campus, allowing them to establish a stronger connection with students.
“We do not want students scrambling to find housing, but we do want to obey this ordinance,” Slattery said.
Students can check if a rental property is licensed for more than two unrelated individuals through the city inspection office at 715-346-1566. They are also encouraged to report a landlord who is asking them to sign a rental agreement with only two names rather than the names of everyone to be living at the property.
If students experience problems with a landlord, there is a student lawyer on retainer through Student Legal Services to deal with these issues.