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Zoning issues plague houses

Originally published November 12, 2010

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three-part series looking into off-campus student housing. Look for final installment next week.

Students experiencing illegal housing issues have come forward to report their situations, but many are keeping quiet in fear of being evicted from their homes.

Junior accounting major Cathy Block said everything was fine with her Cooper Street home until October.

“Our landlords called us and told us that they would be coming by to show someone the house. We became confused as to why he was showing someone else the house, so we called him and that’s when the news hit,” she said. “The people who had toured the house were our new landlords. The first news we got from our new landlord was that two of us would have to move out.”

Block said she and her four roommates scheduled a meeting with their new landlord, and he told them the zoning regulations in Peoria were very strange and no more than three unrelated adults were allowed to live together unless the house had been listed under a grandfather clause.

“Our house is not a grandfather house. Many people either don’t know about this clause or just don’t follow it,” Block–– said. “People in our neighborhood do not really like the fact that it’s being taken over by college students and therefore told the committee that we were breaking the rules.”

Block said her former landlords were unaware of the zoning regulation and chose to sell the house because they realized it would not be worth it financially for only three people to live there.

“Our new landlord told us that he also owns the house across the street and just bought a new one on Rebecca Place,” she said. “The house across the street is a grandfather house and only has three girls so two of us could move in there or we could move onto Rebecca. We have to do this by the end of the semester.”

In addition to academics, jobs and extracurriculars, Block said having to decide where to move and who is moving is adding considerably to the stress of her and her roommates.

“We also now have to consider next year, because it’s already November and most of the houses are signed,” she said. “We recently got in contact with the three girls who live across the street and plan to just switch houses so we don’t have to split up. Therefore, sometime in December we will be packing up our entire house to move across the street.”

Executive Director for Student Support Services Barbara Carraway said Block is not alone.

“Since the Scout broke the housing story last Friday, I have had three students contact me about their homes,” she said. “But students need to be aware of this. If they’re in a house and have more than three unrelated adults, they should call the city to check on zoning. That may mean they run the risk of being reported and having to find somewhere else to live.”

Carraway said as the semester has gone on, she has become more involved with renters and students planning to find their first home.

“I typically work with transfer students and freshmen, but as the semester has progressed, I’ve been contacted about renters and what’s involved there,” she said. “What we’ve done in the past is we have had notebooks on file for people in the area that renters filled out, so people could go in and look for roommates, contacts, etc.”

Carraway said her predecessor used to mail students a copy of a renter’s handbook, but she hopes to make it more accessible online.

“We have talked about how we need a renters’ rights checklist, as well,” she said. “As we’re re-doing the website for off-campus housing, we would add a link to that.”

One way for students to be sure they are renting from a reliable landlord would be a site providing other students’ personal experiences, Carraway said.

“It’s in the developing stages, but we have discussed a website for students to talk about their experiences with certain landlords and company. If a student had a great experience, they could say not. If not, they could say that, too.”

Carraway said her changing role with off-campus housing will include acting as an objective party.

“I want to work closely with the students, with the city and with city Councilwoman Barbara Van Auken,” she said. “We are looking at how we get involved and what do the students need.”

Carraway said where students are concerned, the most vital obligation is safety.

“We need to know if they are living in basements and attics,” she said. “The bottom line is we want to make sure our students are living in safe places.”