Lawsuit Challenges Riverside’s Room Rental Ordinance

One of the unintended consequences of stepping up enforcement of the City’s room rental ordinance to limit property cut ups and over occupancy has resulted in a lawsuit.


Published: Aug. 17, 2014 Updated: Aug. 18, 2014 1:33 a.m.

UCR doctoral candidate Michael Beaumier is a plaintiff in a lawsuit about room rental rules.

Riverside city rules that limit how many people can rent single-family homes and that require special permits for some home rentals are discriminatory and unconstitutional, according to a lawsuit by the Fair Housing Council of Riverside County.

The city has long had a rule capping properties in single-family zones at four renters per home, but it was little-noticed and not strictly enforced until 2013, when complaints from homeowners near UC Riverside led the city to crack down.

As part of the same effort, the council last summer voted to create a new permit that single-family home owners must get if they want to rent rooms to more than two people.

Riverside Interim City Attorney Cristina Talley could not be reached for comment. Councilman Mike Gardner, who proposed the 2013 permit requirement, said he does not believe the city’s rental rules are discriminatory.

Gardner said he had not read the suit, which was filed in July, but “I expect that the city is going to contest it and I expect, as a non-attorney, that the city will prevail.”


Riverside’s four-renter limit in single-family zones has been in place since the 1950s, Gardner said. Owners may have five or more tenants under the rules for “boarding houses,” but those aren’t allowed in single-family zones.

Rented homes don’t seem to have been controversial until recent years, when the foreclosure crisis led to increasing numbers of bank- and investor-owned homes that were rented out. In the University neighborhood, those rentals were attractive to, and sometimes marketed at, college students.

But last summer, homeowners began complaining to the council about loss of street parking, trash strewn about, noisy late-night parties and other inconsiderate behavior. Some said the culprit was overpacked student rentals, where property owners would sometimes get permits to turn common space into fifth and sixth bedrooms.

The council eventually approved a moratorium on room “cut-ups” and officials continue to work on overhauling related occupancy rules. In the meantime, they stepped up enforcement of existing codes and put the permit rule in place.

The lawsuit argues the effect of those actions has been to force some renters from their homes, restrict owners’ ability to rent their properties, and bar some people, including single mothers and minorities, from living in the city’s most desirable neighborhoods.

The city’s adoption and enforcement of the rules “have a discriminatory effect and perpetuate segregation on the basis of race, national origin, familial status and age in violation of the federal and state fair housing laws,” the suit states.

Monica Lopez, program manager for the Fair Housing Council, said the organization got numerous complaints from student and nonstudent renters, property owners and landlords. Owners wondered if they would be able to rent all the bedrooms in larger homes, and whether they could honor leases they’d already signed, she said.

Questions also arose about how the rules might apply to large families. Though city officials have said the four-tenant limit refers to unrelated adults, the written rule actually says “individual renters,” which leaves room for interpretation.

“We’ve been looking for clarification from the very start,” but talks with the city did not yield definitive answers, said Peter Carlson, outreach specialist for the Fair Housing Council.

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