BY Alicia Robinson, Staff Writer June 24, 2013; 06:23 PM
For UC Riverside students, the end of the school year may mean graduation or starting a summer job. For some homeowners in Riverside’s University neighborhood, it means a three-month reprieve from inconsiderate neighbors who leave trash cans out for days, talk and yell in the street in the wee hours, and throw packed house parties where people sometimes vomit and urinate in the yard.
Those homeowners are mobilizing to fight the spread of “mini dorms” – single-family homes rented to multiple students, sometimes five or more, in residential neighborhoods. They’re asking the city, the university and the rental property owners to do something about a situation they find increasingly hard to tolerate.
On Nisbet Way, where about a third of the 18 homes are now rented to students, homeowner Judy Conn said she has heard parties that last until 3 a.m. She has found trash in her yard. Someone threw up in front of her steps. Even with ear plugs and double-paned windows, Conn can’t get any sleep in her bedroom.
For Conn, who used to teach at UCR, the problems are “to the point I’m going to move. I can’t deal with it anymore.”
Clashes between homeowners and seasonal college student renters are as old as university towns. In Riverside, the issue has grown along with the student population.
In about a decade, UCR’s enrollment has swelled by almost 50 percent, going from about 14,200 students in 2001 to about 21,000 in fall 2012, assistant vice chancellor for communications James Grant wrote in an email Friday, June 21.
Meanwhile, on-campus and university-owned housing can accommodate about 6,000 students, and another 814 beds will be available in 2014. Some students live in apartments and others commute to Riverside, but the school doesn’t have statistics on how many students live in Riverside and in what type of housing.
The shortage of on-campus housing has driven the market for renting homes to students, with some online ads specifically soliciting them.
There’s not always friction between students and homeowners.
“I feel like my roommates and I were respectful, so we never got any complaints,” said Vanessa Medina, an engineering major who was chatting with a friend in the commons on Monday, June 24.
Her friend Catherine Gonzales, who is studying electrical engineering, doesn’t rent a house but said she has heard that neighbors, even other students sometimes, complain about student tenant behavior.
Sam Banafti, a senior economics major, said he’d like to move into a house off-campus.
“I’ve heard it’s an ideal situation because you pay much less,” he said.
Banafti said that, judging by the student house parties he’s attended, any problems they cause are “nothing that a couple hours of cleaning can’t fix.”
Homeowners would disagree. A group of them spoke about their concerns at the June 18 Riverside City Council meeting and some planned to return Tuesday, June 25.
Patricia Verwiel said she jokingly refers to her Glenhill Drive neighborhood as the “student ghetto,” where problems include noise, parking, speeding, drunk driving, trash spilling into neighbors’ yards, and general disrespect aimed at homeowners who try to talk to students about their concerns.
Many residents told the council a key problem – the one they’ve picked as a target for action – is the conflict between a city rule limiting how many room rentals are allowed per home and the city’s practice of giving permits to add extra bedrooms.
The zoning code says owners may rent rooms to no more than four people per house. In practice, that has been interpreted to allow owners to rent to large families but not to more than four unrelated people, Councilman Mike Gardner said.
However, the city has granted permits allowing property owners to turn common areas such as living rooms into fifth and sixth bedrooms. See Example Here.
“Why would the city give permits for extra bedrooms when the city ordinance limits the number of renters to four?” homeowner Kevin Dawson asked the council last week.
So far, the city’s answer has been that the state building code requires the city to give the permits to anyone who asks, if they meet various code requirements.
City Manager Scott Barber said permit applications and building plans don’t indicate who’s going to use the extra bedrooms, and said “it’s not an inquiry that the building code allows us to make.”
The applicant could be adding extra rooms for their own family members, for example, he said.
“Your car probably has a speedometer that goes up to 120 miles per hour, but you’re not going to get a ticket because it can do that,” he said.
Some property owners advertise rental houses online specifically for students, including one seven-bedroom home on Spruce Street that is billed as “perfect for a large family or a group of students.”
But other landlords say they’re following the rules and sometimes find themselves at a loss to deal with problem student tenants.
Michelle Buechner, who owns four rental properties near UCR, said she’d like to rent to families, but they can be hard to find. A house on Glenhill Drive she rented to several young men was in bad shape last week after most of the students had moved out.
Toilet paper fluttered from the trees flanking the driveway. The lock on the front door was broken. A hole was punched through one wall inside. Five empty Jagermeister bottles stood lined up on the sill of the front window.
A sign inside indicated that members of the UCR chapter of the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity had lived there. Attempts to reach several members of the fraternity on Monday were unsuccessful. The fraternity could face disciplinary action from UCR, Grant said.
Buechner said she often rents to students, and most are responsible.
“Usually I will tell them, ‘No partying in this house. The neighbors will complain and I will kick you out,’” she said Friday.
Buechner, who lives in Moreno Valley, said she knows the city’s rule and only rents to four people, even if the house has more bedrooms.
But after the lease is signed, sometimes a tenant will bring a boyfriend or girlfriend in, or other people will stay over, she said.
“We don’t live there,” she said. “You really cannot control it.”
Aside from the moratorium homeowners are asking for, some have suggested more enforcement of existing rules would help. But even that carries its own difficulties.
Riverside police Lt. Andy Flores, who as east area commander oversees the University neighborhood, said he’s working on solutions, but has a limited staff.
On weekends during the school year, officers may get several calls about problem parties as well as higher-priority issues such as domestic violence and robbery.
“You’re talking about usually two officers for a 17-square-mile area,” Flores said.
Neighbors will call in a noise complaint and think police ignored it because they couldn’t get there until much later because of other more serious calls.
“The community feels that we don’t care, and that’s not true,” Flores said.
The problem is multi-faceted, and several people said it will take cooperation to solve. With school out, those involved have about three months to hash out the issues and plan a strategy for the fall.
Buechner said she’d like to see the university step in to help control problem students. Homeowners said they want the city to do more about code enforcement when off-site landlords bring in too many tenants, and they plan to keep meeting and petitioning everyone involved until something gets done.
“It is a collaboration,” Flores said. “It’s community, police and city officials getting together and solving these problems long-term.”
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