City Cites 9 Houses for 3-Person Rule Violations

November 26th, 2009 by Kim Lenz

The City of Williamsburg has charged the residents of nine houses with violating the three-person rule, according to Williamsburg Zoning Administrator Rodney Rhodes.

Rhodes said he could “speak with certainty” that at least one person in each house is a student at the College of William and Mary.

“I suspect that all of them have at least some students,” he said.

The three-person rule bars more than three unrelated people from living together in the city.

“I was able to gather information in the past couple of weeks that they were in violation… through a combination of tools: looking at leases, parking permits, College directory, in some instances, information from neighbors,” Rhodes said. “The same tools we’ve used in the past.”

Rhodes clarified that information obtained from neighbors largely constitutes “information regarding vehicles that are routinely parked on or near the property.”

Residents of the nine houses have been issued notices that they must comply with the law or face legal action from the city. To comply, the residents must sign an affidavit swearing no more than three people live in the residence and undergo an inspection by city officials. As a civil case, the burden of proof is not reasonable doubt, as in criminal trials, but rather “sufficient evidence,” a looser standard, were any cases to go to court.

The Student Assembly is already working to support those students cited by the city.

“What our plan is, we’re just trying to figure out how they figured this out,” SA President Sarah Rojas ’10 said. “We want to look at privacy issues, we want to look at how exactly the city was able to track this down, whether it’s neighbor complaints, whether it’s noise ordinance complaints, what exactly the process was that got the city to evict students.”

The SA is working with the College to secure on-campus housing and is willing to provide legal support for those allegedly violating the three-person rule. Student Legal Services, a group of law school students who provide free legal information to students at the College, has been given $30,000 by the SA to spend on a lawyer for cases of interest to the student body, according to SA Chief of Staff Charles Crimmins J.D. ’10.

The $30,000 was appropriated in December 2007, and according to Crimmins none of it has been spent to date. Coincidentally, the head of SLS, who decides how the money can be spent, is currently SA Vice President Ryan Ruzic J.D. ’09.

Crimmins said the funding may not be enough, considering the onslaught of violation notices.

“There’s obviously a fixed amount of money for [legal services], and there’s a lot of students now, but — and I don’t know what the senate would think — but I know that Sarah and I support funding more for lawyers if that’s the case,” Crimmins said. “When each of the houses cited are at least partially if not primarily occupied by students, and there’s nine houses, and they’re all cited at the same time, that’s really, really worrisome, and I think it’s a worthy cause that the student fee should be used for.”

Rojas said she hopes the situation will not end up in a courtroom.

“We don’t think it’s going to get to that point at all,” Rojas said, “but on the off-chance, there will be a student-run lawyer the Student Assembly will be providing.”

Crimmins defended the authority of the SA providing legal services for students to oppose the city.

“In the United States, you’re innocent until you’re proven guilty. Now here, we have a lower standard. It’s not reasonable doubt, it’s just … sufficient evidence. So it’s not as high a standard,” Crimmins said. “What I would say is, when you have nine houses that are cited at the same time and all of those houses are student houses, and the sufficient evidence standard is a standard that is subject to great discretion and judgment, I’m not willing to say that anyone has broken the law; I think the system is flawed.”

This most recent action is a dramatic example of the three-person rule’s flaws, Crimmins argued. He noted that the city code specifies the three-person rule’s intention is to protect the character of the community, and that an ordinance he believes is targeted at students is counter to that objective.

“This ordinance needs to be seriously reviewed. And I don’t mean getting a task force together and reviewing it. I mean it needs to be looked at for what it is, which is changing the characteristics of the community of which we are an integral part. If that means legal action, then it means legal action,” Crimmins said. “The three-person rule, by targeting students, destroys that which it is designed to protect; the Williamsburg community, of which College students are an essential part.”

Rojas said the issue will likely dominate a meeting already scheduled between city officials, city council members and SA leaders for Monday, Nov. 30.

“Is this a one-time enforcement issue or is it a trend?” Rojas said. “Around Thanksgiving time, students are going home, we have finals coming up, it’s a horrible time … it’s horrible timing for students to figure this out. We just want to know if this is going to be something that continues.”

The city has pursued legal action before, suing the residents of 711 Richmond Road in January. Information about cars parked outside 711 Richmond Road, the cornerpiece of the city’s action against its residents, was provided to the city by a neighbor.

The 711 Richmond Road landlords are to be tried in March and could face hefty fines.

Rhodes noted that any more houses found in violation of the rule will face legal consequences from the city.

“If I gather information that other houses are in violation, yes, I most certainly will [take action],” Rhodes said.

15 Responses to City Cites 9 Houses for 3-Person Rule Violations

  1. Anonymous

    November 26, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    What horrible people, trying to evict people at Thanksgiving.

  2. Anonymous

    November 26, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    twould be interesting to know the addresses of the nine houses and the names of the owners. surely this information is available on the complaint forms, why is it not disclosed here?

  3. Anonymous

    November 26, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    Students need to get a move on and start voting the current city council members out of office. I think the only way this is ever going to change is if students start to assert themselves politically by voting in local elections.

    I second Nick/post # 1 – what an awful thing to do over the thanksgiving holiday. The city officials responsible should be ashamed of themselves!

  4. Anonymous

    November 27, 2009 at 4:05 am

    Does anyone giving these comments own any houses in these areas? This is not about students vs locals, although it seems the students are determined to sell that idea. It is about keeping the value of homes in the city. When you rent to students, anyone with an understanding of real estate knows it is the kiss of death to a neighborhood. It literally destroys the houses inside – no one wants to buy a house that has been rented to students. Unfortunately the comments here tell me this is an issue that is being chosen to be ignored.

  5. Anonymous

    November 27, 2009 at 4:30 am

    “The three-person rule, by targeting students, destroys that which it is designed to protect; the Williamsburg community, of which College students are an essential part.”

    Not true – this rule is to protect owners’ investment in their real estate. Something students have no understanding of, and choose not to acknowledge in their comments. This law is upheld to protect the house from students who come, trash them and then move on. That is what you do; every city in the country already knows this, and 711 Richmond is a classic example. Students, ask your parents if they would buy a house students have lived in for 4 years. In fact, I’ll save you the trouble, they would run away from it!!!

  6. Anonymous

    November 27, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    To Jean,
    My guess is most of the owners (landlords) know they have a goldmine on their hands- and love it.

    And the pool of rentals students have to choose from every year are primarily past student rentals that are usually overpriced and severely lacking in any amenities that would make them appealing to anyone else but students.

    Yes, many rentals in general aren’t maintained to the standards that owners/ occupiers put forth, but that’s true in any city in the country- People should be skeptical about buying any rental, students or not.

    The City of Williamsburg (and some of its neighbors) are pre-judging its future residents by saying- if you’re renter, you’re going to trash this neighborhood and bring property values down.

    I’m “just a renter” now, but what worries me about becoming a future home-owner in the city, besides real-estate prices, is a city council that wants to tell me what I can and can’t do with my bedrooms.

  7. Anonymous

    November 27, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    This rule makes no sense at all. 3 students, or 2 for that matter, can destroy a house or be just as loud and obnoxious as 4 or 5 students. like anything, it just depends on the kids renting the house. if students get out of hand, call the police…which is the same thing you would do if any neighbor (renters or not) get out of hand.

    it is unfair for those students who happen to have 4 occupying a residence that ARE respectful and considerate of their neighbors…not all students are “the devil”!

  8. Anonymous

    November 27, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    “It’s the landlords stupid!”

  9. Anonymous

    November 27, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    A waste of time and resources of the City of Williamsburg. What’s to be gained? A better community….oh please! Leave those who are not being a disturbance to neighbors alone. Some of the students living off campus actually help out, voluntarily, around town all the while maintaining high academic standards.

  10. Anonymous

    November 28, 2009 at 4:01 am

    The number of unrelated residents is very relevant. A family of 5 will not have a party every weekend. 5 college students could. A family will continue to invest in a house, students will not. A landlord will only repair & maintain to suit the tenants. Students could care less so landlords don’t either. That’s why property gets devalued. We’re not talking about just Wmsbg. You would get the same feedback from 50,000 other cities in the US because this happens pretty much everywhere & we don’t want it to happen here. We know you are nice folks but to the drunk gal who banged on our door 2 weekends ago at 2 a.m.and tried to break into our house, we wish you lived on campus.

  11. Anonymous

    November 28, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    This makes me wonder about the level of critical thinking in college students: “What our plan is, we’re just trying to figure out how they figured this out,” SA President Sarah Rojas ’10 said. Hello! Neighbors complain; parking permits match college directory information and addresses. But the point is, young people don’t have the maturity to understand that real estate is a huge investment, and that investment needs to be protected; in this case, from immature college students.

  12. Anonymous

    November 30, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    Annabelle: Real estate is only a “huge investment” in the sense that it requires a lot of money to purchase a home. The problem with our community is that most people expect to “invest” in property and have it appreciate in value (homeowners) or provide rental income (landlords) – providing a financial payoff to the owner.
    The rental model actually makes some sense. The homeownership as investment idea is actually very stupid – witness the recent housing crash. Williamsburg is somewhat unique in that property values will probably remain stable no matter what, but “investing” in a home and viewing a home as an “asset” is actually extremely foolish – the whole idea is what got this nation into it’s current economic predicament.
    People who “invest in property want to make money. People who rent just want somewhere to live and a chance to be part of the community – all this property values/investment talk is selfish nonsense. Shame on you.

  13. Anonymous

    December 1, 2009 at 3:14 am

    To everyone who thinks that renting a home to a student forever ruins the house: Wouldn’t abolishing the 3-person rule protect your properties more effectively?
    Surely four students can’t damage a house all that much more than three students. Allowing four students to a house instead of three means you can satisfy the student housing demand with 33% fewer units. Plus, a four-person co-op can afford to pay higher rent, which will help offset whatever damage they cause.
    The three-person rule isn’t just petty and discriminatory, it’s economically backward.

  14. Anonymous

    December 1, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    The argument about property values is bogus. Anyone who bought a house in the city of Williamsburg near the College knew that the College was adjacent (it’s not like W&M was built five years ago) and knew that students would be their neighbors. There are plenty of neighborhoods in the city that are not close to the College where people could live to get away from students. Anyone who bought a house nearby knew what they were getting into beforehand and should be mature enough to accept the consequences.

  15. Anonymous

    December 1, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    “… a meeting already scheduled between city officials, city council members and SA leaders for Monday, Nov. 30”

    Such meetings should be announced and open to the public.

    The solution is to only investigate if there has been a complaint. If more than three unrelated persons are living in harmony with their neighbors they should be left alone.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login