BOWLING GREEN - College students with more roommates than the city's zoning code allows are getting a break.
Bowling Green Mayor John Quinn announced last night that after talking with Bowling Green State University President Sidney Ribeau, City Council members, and city officials, he has decided to give people living in houses in residential neighborhoods with more than two other unrelated persons until May 15, 2005, to comply with the occupancy law.
Anyone still in violation after May 15 will receive a 30-day notice to get into compliance, which means students will be able to finish the school year without having to move.
"We're not going to stop looking for over-occupancy,'' the mayor said. "We're going to continue looking. To this point, we have identified about 100 people [in violation] who have not been cited, and those people will receive a letter telling them they must be in compliance by May 15.
"If we find someone [in violation] on March 15, we will send them that letter too. We will continue to look,'' Mr. Quinn said.
Charges against the 37 students cited this fall will be dropped, he said, but those charges could be refiled in the spring if the students still have more than two roommates. He called July 31, 2005, the "no-tolerance" deadline when both renters and landlords would be cited for violations.
Bowling Green's zoning code has limited the number of unrelated persons under one roof in houses in R-1 and R-2 neighborhoods since 1975, but the city had never cited violators until this fall.
When police began executing search warrants at houses where they believed residents were violating the law, there was an outcry from students who claimed they were unaware of the law or were told by their landlords that only three persons could be on the lease but more could live there.
Alex Wright, president of BGSU's Undergraduate Student Government, thanked the mayor for the extended notice.
"I think this will give students who in good faith signed leases who were perhaps ignorant of the law the chance to finish out this academic year without fear of fines or having to leave their residences,'' Mr. Wright said.
He pledged that he would assist the university in an effort to educate students about the occupancy law and said he would immediately send an e-mail to the entire student body informing them of the mayor's decision.
Mr. Quinn has said his goal is not to punish people, but to find a way to enforce the regulation which was intended to limit noise, litter, and traffic in residential neighborhoods.
He told City Council last night that landlords would be held accountable for upholding the law and he hoped they kept that in mind as they line up tenants for next school year.
Mr. Quinn also said his staff is investigating similar ordinances in Cincinnati and in Oxford, Ohio, home of Miami University. Council might be able to look at making occupancy limits and other neighborhood issues such as snow removal and weed control civil violations, rather than criminal offenses.
In that way, the city's zoning inspector could issue citations, which would be punishable with fines.
Mr. Quinn said after the meeting that city and university officials agreed students deserved more time to comply with the law.
However, he added: "I'm sure there will be some people in the neighborhoods who think we gave up too much here.''
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