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Student Housing: Just When Is Three A Crowd

Many buyers in university or college towns are looking for residential properties that will house a large number of students–six, eight or even more. They may be buying for their college-bound children and friends and/or for investment purposes. 

The Commission has observed an increase in complaints from such home purchasers who find that their intended use–housing several college students–violates the local jurisdictions’ “single family use” definition by packing too many unrelated persons into the property, and from irate neighbors who complain about parking and noise where large older homes have been changed from a single residence to the rental of individual rooms to unrelated tenants.

Remember, local ordinances and/or private covenants often restrict the number of unrelated occupants in a residential property. These restrictions typically apply regardless of the size of the property and even where other potential limits on occupancy (e.g., septic permits) would otherwise allow their use. 

Not every local government has adopted ordinances defining “single family” use. Where they have, the number of unrelated persons that can live together can range from a low of no more than two to as many as four. It is also possible that restrictive covenants in a residential subdivision may impose a limit where there is no ordinance, or may impose a restriction more limiting than the local ordinance. 

Real estate agents should be aware that if they participate in unlawfully converting a home to multiple rental units or simply renting it as a single unit to more persons than permitted by law or covenant, they can be found in violation of the Real Estate License Law. This includes encouraging or aiding in the illegal use (or just remaining silent about it) or negligently failing to investigate the lawful use or advising the parties to make their own independent investigation.

The Commission has for many years advised its licensees that, when marketing or leasing real property, they must make a careful inquiry to determine their permitted uses so as to avoid advertising or using the property in a manner that violates state law, local regulation or applicable restrictive covenants.

This article came from the October 2003-Vol34-2 edition of the bulletin.