Dormitory laws held safe from high court ruling

December 08, 1993|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Staff Writer

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling Monday on Prince George's County's "mini-dormitory law" should not affect two Baltimore County ordinances that indirectly deal with off-campus student housing, said the sponsor of the measures.

Councilman Douglas B. Riley, R-4th, said that the Baltimore County laws don't regulate based on who lives in the house, but on how the house is used.

One of Mr. Riley's measures tries to control the noise often associated with off-campus college student housing; the other regulates the rooming houses that many students prefer to the more expensive and restrictive campus dormitories.

Although the new laws were prompted by complaints from residents around Towson State University, they apply countywide and do not single out college students.

The noise law makes "excessive domestic noise" illegal at any hour and lets county police cite the owners of houses that repeatedly have loud parties.

The second ordinance attempts to regulate the scores of illegal rooming houses. County law allows the granting of zoning law exemptions to rooming houses after a public hearing is held. Only one Towson home has received such an exemption in the last five years, and only two countywide, according to a planning staff report.

The new law offers rooming house owners the chance to get a permit quickly and without a public hearing, as long as no one objects. In return, landlords must provide one parking space per tenant and provide a floor plan, information on the number of tenants and the location of off-street parking.

The Prince George's County ordinance was adopted in late 1989 and put into effect the following summer. It targeted neighborhoods around the University of Maryland campus at College Park, particularly any off-campus house that had been built for one, two or three families, but was being occupied by up to five college students.

The ordinance spelled out how much sleeping space had to be available for each student, limited parking to one space per student and barred any change in a home's appearance. It was based on the county's belief that "college students tend to create the type of disturbances that prevent a neighborhood from being a sanctuary."

In a 4-to-3 vote, Maryland's highest court, the Court of Appeals, struck down the so-called "mini-dormitory" law, saying it discriminated against college students.

Prince George's County insisted it did not intend to discriminate and said it only sought to deal with the problems related to student-occupied housing.

The U.S. Supreme Court turned aside Prince George's County's appeal Monday. The court did not comment on its ruling.

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