Update: Auburn coeds given a week to comply with zoning
An Auburn Municipal Judge has given college students an extra week to get into compliance with a zoning law. Two of Hayley Bylsma's roommates will have to move or face eviction and the homeowner could face fines up to $500 a day. According to Auburn's zoning ordinance, not more than two unrelated people can live in homes their neighborhood. Two other cases were also heard in Auburn Municipal Court Tuesday. Students say it's ridiculous and unethical to force them to move in the middle of the semester. They told ABC3340News they were unaware of the ordinance. The University has asked the city to allow students more time to find alternate living arrangements.
Imagine being right in the middle of college midterms and getting evicted from your home. A little known city zoning law has some Auburn coeds in a very tough spot. They have to find new places to live. The i-Team looked into their plight and found others could face similar issues in college towns.
Hayley Bylsma told us how early one September morning police and a city worker showed up at her door with a search warrant. "All I can see is a police officer standing there through the peep hole; I was terrified not knowing if someone in my family was hurt," explains Bylsma.
They searched her bedroom along with those of her three roommates. She says they looked in their drawers and even one of her roommate's bibles. "I don't think that was necessary; it was an invasion of privacy," recalls Bylsma. She questions why the city couldn't have just talked to them and explained the law and given them a chance to comply. She believes it's a waste of city resources and time.
City Planner Forrest Cotten says the unrelated occupancy ordinance has been on the books for 35 years. Simply put it means not more than two unrelated people can occupy a home in certain zones of the city of Auburn. It's designed to keep the character of older neighborhood. Student living is different from family living.
Enforcement of the law is based on complaints. "This year I would say has been the most active in a decade," says Cotten. He can't explain why there are so many complaints this semester.
Of the 17 complaints they received, at least seven including Bylsmas' on Dumas Drive were found to be "substantiated violations." Landlords are responsible for any fines which can run $500 a day. Tenants will be evicted if they don't comply.
Bylsma says they have had no issues with their neighbors. Her roommates park in the driveway behind the house, not even visible from the roadway. She tells us they do not throw parties or cause any disruptions. She says many other students live on the same road.
Cotten says Auburn is no different from other college towns with similar zoning laws. "Most places have this in some form or fashion," explains Cotten. He cited Tuscaloosa and Oxford as examples.
He says they've done their best to educate the public on social media and through mailings about the zoning law. "It's the responsibility of the owner. Anytime you purchase a piece of land educate yourself about the zoning," advises Cotten.
Bylsma's father built the home she and her roommates live in. He tells us he was never told of the zoning when he got the building permits. A petition drive supporting the students has more than ten thousand signatures.
The Bylsmas will be in court Tuesday asking for more time to comply with the law. Hayley Byslma calls it ridiculous to force students to move mid-semester. We talked with other students who are now scrambling to find new places to live. The University is asking the city to give students some leeway, but so far nothing has changed. Some hope this spurs the city to review the zoning laws.
Portion of ordinance pertaining to occupancy:
Family: Two (2) or more persons residing in a single dwelling unit where all members are related by blood, marriage, adoption or guardianship up to the second degree of consanguinity, plus one unrelated person in the Limited Development District, Neighborhood Conservation District, or the Development District Housing. For the purpose of this definition “consanguinity” means husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces, and first cousins. In all other zoning districts where residential units are permitted the term “family” may include up to five (5) unrelated persons occupying a single dwelling unit.
City leaders explained Auburn takes several steps to notify and remind the public about the zoning regulations:
* Article in September Open Line mailed to residents who receiver water bills
*Planning dept. mailed postcards with reminders to 12,000 properties in the affected zoning districts
*Letters sent to realtors in Lee County