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Students to face zoning issues

Amanda Gray | Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Moving off campus to live independently is a rite of passage for many Notre Dame students, but before they move in, they may want to look into their living situation. Students who have already signed leases for houses next year might have to deal with South Bend Code Enforcement, according to Director Catherine Toppel.

Some homes that students have signed leases for are not zoned properly, which could result in students being evicted, she said.

According to Toppel, the department sees around three cases every year. She said the amount should increase exponentially with the coming school year, as Code Enforcement is making zoning violations a priority.

“It’s gotten a lot worse over the past few years,” Toppel said. “It’s drawing the attention of the neighbors … I’m estimating close to 100 homes, once all the things are looked at.”

The complaints concern the number of students living at a home, Toppel said. Some homes being rented to students are zoned Single Family, meaning no more than two unrelated people can live at the property. This zoning is meant to encourage families, instead of students, to reside at properties.

“It’s nothing against the students, but [student houses] change the feel of a neighborhood,” Toppel said. “The neighborhood wants year-round neighbors.”

Some off-campus houses have correct Multi-Family zoning, allowing more than two non-related residents to live on a property. Other homes within Single Family districts have been grandfathered in, with Multi-Family zoning from previous district lines. 

Zoning updates occurred in 1968, 1978, 1986 and 2004. Some homes have been kept Multi-Family, even though the district they are in has changed to Single Family zoning.

“We’ve looked at zoned areas and the updates,” Toppel said. “We’re looking at individual cases.”

Some landlords mistakenly believe their rental properties are grandfathered in, Toppel said. If a home had two occupants or less for a consecutive twelve months, then the home has reverted to Single Family zoning status.

Toppel said students should call Building Services or Code Enforcement if they are concerned about their housing for next year. 

“Don’t depend on your landlord for answers to if it’s okay,” she said. “Double check.”

Local landlord Mark Kramer of Kramer Properties said he has looked into his homes, and all are properly zoned.

“When students come to see me because they’ve looked at a home, I know the areas that are and are not zoned properly,” he said. “I advise them to check the code with Building Services. I feel it’s my obligation to students to make them aware of the code.”

Code Enforcement chief inspector Brian Haygood said an investigation into violations begins when the department receives a complaint about a home from a neighbor. Code Enforcement then investigates, sending letters to residents and owners about overcrowding in a home. There can be a hearing, as well as fines, and residents normally must leave.

“If you’re living in a house, you have a responsibility [to the neighborhood],” he said.

Off-campus president Ryan Hawley said it is unfortunate students seem to bear most of the punishment for code violations.

“It’s important for all students living off campus to be in compliance with South Bend laws and to also be good neighbors and contribute to the community,” he said. “However, it seems unreasonable to punish students for signing leases they were led to believe would ensure that they had a house to live in next year.”

While extensions are sometimes given to students found in code violation during the school year to finish the year in their house, Toppel said none would be granted through the next year.

“We want to get serious about properties for next year,” she said.

If concerned about the zoning of a property, contact Code Enforcement at (574) 235-9486.