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Iowa City taking next step in regulating rentals

Parking requirements, definition of households among possible changes

Lawyer Christopher Warnock walks past a rental property Dec. 17, 2017, as he talks about the makeup of owner-occupied houses and rental properties in the Goose Town neighborhood, where he lives. The neighborhood association supported placing caps on the number or rental permits allowed in some districts. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Lawyer Christopher Warnock walks past a rental property Dec. 17, 2017, as he talks about the makeup of owner-occupied houses and rental properties in the Goose Town neighborhood, where he lives. The neighborhood association supported placing caps on the number or rental permits allowed in some districts. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — City officials are hoping to update zoning codes to prevent too many people from living in various types of homes and to stabilize neighborhoods.

The City Council voted 6-0, with Kingsley Botchway II absent, to set a public hearing at its next meeting, March 20.

The potential code amendments are the second response by the city to a new state law that prevents municipalities from regulating occupancy based on the family status of tenants.

“The goal of the recent changes to the housing code and to the zoning code is basically to establish a balance between short-term rental opportunities for students and long-term housing options for more permanent residents,” said Tracy Hightshoe, director of Neighborhood and Development Services. “So we’re looking for balance within all our neighborhoods, especially those neighborhoods closest to campus where you have a lot of student pressure.”

Previously, Iowa City’s code said that no more than three unrelated people could live in a rental unit. Because of high demand for housing near the campus, a lack of control on occupancy would make it difficult for others to compete with groups of students for single-family or duplex houses, according to a memo by Karen Howard, associate planner.

If the amendments are passed, the zoning code would newly define a household and ramp up parking requirements.

“Before we went by familial status, so now we’re looking at does a household function as a household? Do they share bills? Do they live together as a unit?” Hightshoe asked.

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While group living situations, for example, would have individual private living spaces and expenses, residents may share amenities.

The proposed changes also would require one- and two-bedroom units to have one parking space plus an additional space for every adult occupant beyond three. For three or more bedrooms, the requirement would be similar but start with a base of two spots.

The proposals also would limited the number of bedrooms in attached single-family homes and duplexes and establish setback requirements in districts close to the University of Iowa to prevent additions or large amounts of pavement for parking.

The first round of changes included a cap on rental permits that could be issued to single-family and duplex homes in the neighborhoods around the UI. Additionally, measures like a minimum amount of shared living space and a limit on the amount of bedroom space were put into effect.

“I think that the occupancy stuff helps the tenants. To say you have to have a certain amount of space and you can’t have a certain number of people there is actually a pro-tenant change,” said Christopher Warnock, a lawyer for the Iowa Tenants’ Project and member of the Goosetown Neighborhood Association, which supported the rental cap. “Most landlords, I think, are following the rules and aren’t causing problems. There’s only a few people that are going out and saying ‘OK, I want to buy these houses and jam them full of students.’”

The rental cap and housing code changes triggered some fear from UI students that it would limit housing options in a market already struggling with rising rents and low vacancy rates.

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

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