Rental code passed final reading

NICK FISHER, Executive Editor

The Cedar Falls City Council passed the final reading of a rental conversion ordinance 6-1, with Councilman Nick Taiber voting “no,” at Monday night’s meeting, officially adopting the ordinance. 

The law stipulates new criteria that will be used to determine the number of unrelated persons that may occupy a rental property. 

“The nature of the community is continually discussed. [Those in favor of the ordinance] are not making the leap from how reducing occupancy is going to improve the nature of the community; how reducing occupancy is going to make it easier to enforce [rental] code…I think [the ordinance] is an easy way out to reduce the number of students who can live in the communities around here,” said Aaron Friel, a member of the senate for the NISG.

Newly registered rentals will be allowed an occupancy level of two unrelated persons or a family, as defined by section 14-34 of the ordinance. Existing rental properties will remain at their current occupancy level. 

However, upon the sale or transfer by the owner of an existing rental property, the property is subject to review based on these requirements: 

•    Lot width of 70 ft or greater

•    Street width 31 ft or greater

•    Lot area of 8,000 sq ft or greater

•    Four designated hard-surfaced parking spots off of the street

If the sold or transferred property fails to meet these requirements, the occupancy level will be changed to three unrelated persons. Tenants can appeal this to keep occupancy level unchanged, or even apply for a Group Rental Permit that would grant occupancy for as much as five unrelated persons. 

Appeals will be granted for four unrelated persons if the property has four off-street, hard surfaced parking spaces in addition to meeting the above criteria.

The Group Rental Permit will be granted based on the property’s success at meeting the criteria for the appeal for four unrelated persons, but also based on the following:  

•    Impact to character of the neighborhood (density and vehicles)

•    Compliance with the International Property Maintenance Code occupancy level

•    Sufficient lot size (width and area)

•    Provides adequate off-street parking (one per bedroom)

•    Adequate public infrastructure

•    Buffering of parking

•    Compliance record for property or others under the same ownership 

These same standards will be used if a newly registered rental property would apply for the Group Rental Permit to grant occupancy for three to five unrelated persons. 

Spanning over two hours, discussion of this issue included the Council deciding to forgo the standard practice of alternating between opposed and for because too many were speaking against the proposal. 

Many of those opposed were UNI students. Students who couldn’t attend were represented by Friel who acted as an intermediary by reading dozens of emails and text messages. 

“In short, the more people I live with, the better the student I can be; which will ultimately allow me to make a greater contribution to the community,” Friel said, reading one such text message from an unnamed UNI student. 

The issue of the preservation of neighborhood character was a common discussion point in the meeting. 

Mark Miller, a homeowner and commercial property owner in Cedar Falls, framed the preservation of neighborhood character in terms of property value. 

“Some landowners have let their properties run down–and have not invested in those properties–and it also affects property values of the neighbors in that area,” Miller said. 

Miller concluded by discussing issues with code enforcement and proposing changes to the Landlord Accountability Act. 

“We have good landlords in Cedar Falls,” Miller said. 

Miller supported the ordinance. 

Friel maintained that students opposing this ordinance share Miller’s sentiments in regard to code enforcement and changes to the Landlord Accountability Act. 

“The students that I’ve spoken to on campus are all in favor of enforcing proper codes… I don’t think any student that I’ve met is opposed to ensuring that property values are improved. I don’t think any student is opposed to making sure that landlords are accountable,” Friel said, “But this ordinance, however, goes above and beyond, and targets, in particular, students who want to live together.” 

John Runchey, third-ward council member, felt that those students opposed to the ordinance needed to recognize all sides of the issue. 

“I’ve been where you are, and I’ve also listened to the neighbors. I understand where you’re coming from, but you at least have to put yourself in our shoes,” Runchey said. “There is another side to this, and it is legitimate.”

Lynn Nielson, a homeowner, expressed the issue of neighborhood character in terms of anecdotal evidence. Despite certain problems, he maintained that he is not moving. 

“We’re not moving because there are college students living next-door to us who are making it impossible to live there,” Nielson said. 

Nielson recognized that this is not always the case, providing further examples of acceptable tenant behavior. 

“In the one case, there’s contribution to the community. In the other case, it’s ‘come to Cedar Falls, get what I can get and get out,’” Nielson said. 

Mark Miller, first-ward council member — not to be confused with the homeowner of the same name who also spoke — felt that some community members had confused the debate at hand.

“This isn’t in any way, shape or form a battle of students and renters versus the rest of the population of Cedar Falls, but I think it’s being misconstrued that way,” Miller said.