John Waynick, left, and Steve Zielaskiewicz ask BGSU student Emmanuel Tive to sign their petition, which seeks to change Bowling Green's occupancy law. Petition drive leaders say the city's present limit unfairly targets students. The group needs at least 805 signatures to get the initiative on the ballot.
BOWLING GREEN - To some Bowling Green State University students - and to some landlords who rent houses to them - the city's three-people-to-a-house limit just isn't fair.
They want voters to change the law to read that one person may occupy each bedroom in a house "provided the total number of unrelated persons in any home is a maximum of four persons."
"We view this as a social issue first because the law targets nobody but students and if students weren't here, Bowling Green's economy wouldn't be half of what it is," said John Waynick, president of the Undergraduate Student Government at BGSU, which is leading the petition drive.
The group needs to gather at least 805 valid signatures from registered voters in Bowling Green to get the initiative on the November ballot, said Terry Burton, director of the Wood County Board of Elections.
If it gets to the ballot, the measure is likely to be opposed by neighborhood associations and others who say they want to preserve the quality of life in neighborhoods for families.
"We remember when we lived here earlier and there were very few rentals, and people that own their homes typically keep their homes up better," said Jan Veitch, a member of the East Side Residential Neighborhood Group, which formed last year.
"We try really hard not to discourage students," she said. "We like the eclectic feel of the neighborhood, but there are always ones that misbehave."
Her neighborhood just south of campus is zoned for single families but has a mix of college rentals.
"The more people you pack into those homes the parking problems increase, the noise, the litter, that all goes with it," Mrs. Veitch said.
"That zoning law was put into place for a reason and that was to protect the residential homes in the area. Our group is committed to maintaining that balance of rentals and owned homes, not add to the problems we already have."
Mr. Waynick said he doesn't think having four, rather than three, people in a house would make any difference and said laws already exist to deal with problems when they arise.
"I understand their logic, but at the same time that's what other ordinances are for, that's what police are for," he said.
To Mr. Waynick's way of thinking, the zoning should be changed in single-family neighborhoods that have become predominantly populated by students. He doesn't think the city would approve such rezoning, though, so his group is trying to change the occupancy law.
"We're fighting the only battle we can," he said. "It's all perception. They have a bad perception of students and that takes years to fix."
The occupancy law is not new. City Council adopted it in 1975 but didn't actively enforce it until four years ago.
"The law has always been there. We've just put more emphasis on it," Mayor John Quinn said.
During the last school year, about 100 homes were investigated for occupancy violations, city Prosecutor Matt Reger said.
Twenty-one tenants were cited for civil infractions for violating the law, while three landlords were prosecuted criminally for knowingly allowing more than three unrelated people to rent their properties.
Mr. Reger said when code enforcement officers substantiate a violation, they give the tenants and landlords 10 days to correct the situation. Most do.
"We have corrected more than we've ever prosecuted because people have been cooperative," Mr. Reger said.
Robert Maurer, a local attorney who owns numerous rental properties in Bowling Green, is working with the Undergraduate Student Government on the petition drive.
He owns a number of four and five-bedroom homes that legally he may rent to only three people.
"It all boils down to what is reasonable and fair, and I don't think too many reasonable and fair people could say that one person per bedroom up to a maximum of four is unreasonable or unfair," Mr. Maurer said.
"You can anticipate the parties and so forth, but I'm not sure the parties are going to be prohibited by limiting it to three."
Mr. Waynick admits the group's timing for circulating petitions "couldn't have been worse" with most students away from Bowling Green for the summer. Still, he said, supporters have gathered more than 500 signatures and hope to get 1,300 by the end of the month.
"What we've been doing at the same time is registering students and community members to vote and being that it's a national election, we think it's a great idea to get kids out to vote," he said.
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