Repugnant Renters In UCR Neighborhood

July 20, 2013; 06:00 PM
Student Rental Party Hard Damage

Residing in neighborhoods near UCR should not mean living with loud parties and drunken, obnoxious behavior by student renters. Riverside needs to do more to curb unruly conduct at residential “mini-dorms.” That effort should include strengthening the city’s ordinances where necessary, but tougher rules will do little good unless the city also steps up enforcement.

Residents of the city’s Canyon Crest and University neighborhoods want city officials to crack down on misbehaving student renters. Residents of the area say that the spread of “mini-dorms” — single-family homes rented to multiple students — has created trouble for neighbors of such homes. Residents of those areas complain of large, noisy parties, public drunkenness, indecent exposure, vandalism and other disruptive behavior. Neighboring homeowners find trash, vomit and other debris in their yards the next day.

Such conflicts are not new for university towns, but UCR’s growth has made the issue more troublesome. The university’s enrollment has swelled from 14,200 students in 2001 to about 21,000 in 2012. On-campus housing now only has space for about 6,000 students, leaving many to look for places to rent off-campus. And investors have snapped up nearby homes and added additional bedrooms with the idea of renting them out to students. About a third of homes in the University neighborhood are rentals, and nearly one-fifth in the Canyon Crest area. Not all student renters are unruly, certainly, and many landlords are serious about following the rules — but that still leaves plenty of misbehavior to irritate nearby residents.

The disruptions call for a stronger response than Riverside has offered so far. The city is considering new laws, and may adopt a “social host” ordinance similar to what cities such as Corona, Moreno Valley and Redlands have imposed. The concept has promise, as such laws specify civil or criminal penalties against people who allow underage drinking on their property, including both landlords and party hosts. The Planning Commission also suggested last week that the city allow only two renters per home.

But rules do not matter if the city does not effectively enforce them. City code, for example, limits the number of individual renters in any home to four. Yet the city also issues permits allowing homeowners to add sixth and seventh bedrooms to houses. City officials say the building code does not let the city ask how applicants will use the extra rooms. But the city should at least make sure that everyone pulling a permit to add more rooms clearly understands the four-person limit. The city should also do more to enforce that rule, particularly in areas where complaints are frequent.

Riverside should also make stronger use of the city’s noise ordinances. From January to early June this year, police logged 153 complaints about noise, parties and other objectionable behavior. In all but three cases, police did not cite anyone. Police say that limited resources make it tough to enforce such ordinances, given more pressing law enforcement priorities.

But telling residents that the city lacks the wherewithal to address a basic quality of life issue is not an acceptable answer. The trouble is concentrated in a limited area of the city, and Riverside has a responsibility to help resolve the complaints. And experience in other cities suggests that a few instances of no-nonsense enforcement can be an effective way to get the message to those who need it.

Riverside should also explore what powers UCR has to curb students’ disruptive off-campus behavior. Good campus-community relations are crucial for any university, and university officials should do everything possible to help ensure that students are good residents of Riverside as well as young scholars.

There is no easy solution to the bad behavior of some student renters. But that reality does not excuse the city from stronger efforts to address residents’ complaints.

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