Know your rental rights

CLINTON OLSASKY, Executive Editor | [email protected]

On Wednesday, Nov. 11, the Northern Iowa Student Government (NISG) is hosting “Know Your Rental Rights,” an event that is aimed to educate student renters about their rights and responsibilities as tenants.

The event will be held in the Elm Room at Maucker Union from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. The event coincides with the new rental housing ordinance that was passed by the Cedar Falls City Council this year. The law specifies a number of requirements that are now used to determine how many unrelated persons are allowed to occupy the same rental property.

Cedar Falls Fire Department chief John Schilling and his staff will be giving a presentation at the event which will address rental code enforcement, as well as provide advice for students when dealing with their landlords. NISG will then open the floor for a question and answer period.

Sophomore marketing and economics major and chair of External Relations for NISG, Danielle Massey, explained their reasoning for hosting this event.

“[Schilling] is very open to discussing the specifics,” said Massey. “He’ll bring staff who […] are in charge of enforcing this ordinance and are experts on that. One reason we wanted to bring them in is to help students understand what this new ordinance means.”

It would appear that students are, in fact, eager to learn more about the new law. According to Massey, the rental ordinance reinvigorated students’ interest in local government.

“After students had heard about [the rental housing ordinance] and were interested, they came to city government,” Massey said. “They came to council meetings. They represented UNI, and I was very proud with how they represented UNI. I was very excited that students were speaking up for what they thought was right.”

Massey went on to say one of students’ main issues with the ordinance was the new occupancy level guidelines

According to the Northern Iowan archives, the ordinance states that newly registered single-dwelling rental properties are allowed an occupancy level of anywhere from two to four unrelated persons or a family.

However, existing rental properties that are sold or transferred by the owner are subject to review under the following criteria: a lot width of 70 ft. or greater, street width of 31 ft. or greater, lot area of 8,000 sq. ft. or greater and four designated hard-surfaced parking spaces off of the street. If the property in question doesn’t meet these criteria, the maximum occupancy level will be changed to three unrelated persons.

According to the Northern Iowan archives, the ordinance also allows the owner of a single-dwelling property to file for an application to raise the occupancy level to four unrelated persons, provided that the property meets the above criteria. Furthermore, the law allows for tenants to apply for a “group rental permit,” which would grant occupancy for up to five unrelated persons.

These permits can be granted to properties that meet the aforementioned requirements, as well as the following: preservation of character of the neighborhood, compliance with the International Property Maintenance Code occupancy level, sufficient lot size, adequate off-street parking, adequate public infrastructure, buffering of parking and compliance record for property or others under the same ownership.

The first of these requirements (character of the neighborhood) has generated some controversy among students.

Sophomore anthropology major, Ellie Akers, took particular offense to the wording.

“I was kind of hurt by that, because it was almost like it was saying that all college students were bad people and that we’re all partiers [… ] some of us actually like living in nice neighborhoods and in clean houses, myself included,” said Akers.

Massey offers a different interpretation of this particular criterion.

“In their belief, when renters move in and new properties pop up as renting properties, the neighborhoods kind of dissolve,” Massey said. “They aren’t saying that students are specifically the issue, but they are saying we can’t ignore the large number of rental properties in Cedar Falls.”

Sophomore political communication and jazz studies major, Clayton Ryan, is planning on living in an off-campus house through the summer and into the next academic year. Ryan admitted there are both positive and negative aspects about the ordinance.

“What a lot of students’ first reaction is when they hear about [the ordinance] is that there are a lot of requirements,” Ryan said. “But what this is doing is also holding the landlords more accountable.”

Landlord accountability will be just one of the issues covered in NISG’s “Know Your Rental Rights” event this Wednesday.

Massey spoke about the importance of attending the event.

“As of last spring, we started seeing the need for students…to know about their rights,” said Massey. “And so, we’re here to make sure students know what they can and can’t do. And make sure that they aren’t being taken advantage of.”