Landlord's citation prompts effort to lift local limit on unrelated renters

March 09, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff Writer

Two's company, but three's illegal -- at least when it comes to Annapolis' housing code.

Last week, Planning and Zoning Department officials cited a city landlord for renting a five-bedroom house to four St. John's College students -- the first such action in recent memory.

The landlord, Ron Hollander, says he'll fight the law that regulates who can rent an apartment or single-family home. He calls it discriminatory.

The law prohibits a landlord from renting an apartment or a single-family house to people who do not meet the city's definition of family: "one or more persons, each related to the other by blood, marriage, or adoption, who are living together in a single dwelling and maintaining a common household."

The code goes on to say a family may include any "domestic servant and not more than one gratuitous guest." The "guest" clause would allow landlords to rent to two unrelated people, but no more, said Jon Arason, deputy director of the Department of Planning and Zoning.

Alderman Carl O. Snowden, a Democrat from Ward 5, has asked the city attorney to draft legislation changing the city's definition of a family. He suggested rephrasing the city code to define families as including "domestic partners" instead of "domestic servants."

He said he also is concerned that the current law hurts the college students who live in the city.

"Students at St. John's need to have housing. If the private sector economy can provide it, we shouldn't discourage it," Mr. Snowden said.

Mr. Hollander was cited Feb. 28, after neighbors complained about the number of people living in the house at 16 East St. across from the Naval Academy, Mr. Arason said.

"Our enforcement is based on complaints. We don't go in and check on people's living arrangements," he said. Mr. Arason said zTC it was the first time he could recall anyone being cited for renting to more than two unrelated people.

Mr. Hollander has until March 15 to comply or face a $100-a-day fine. He has said he will not pay the fine and will appeal to the city's Board of Appeals.

Though he has rented apartments in Annapolis for 30 years, Mr. Hollander said he didn't know about the city law until recently. He complained that the city is selectively enforcing the statute.

"Ninety percent of the landlords in the city do this," he said, adding that he has no way to verify his tenants' relationships. "How do I ascertain they are blood related? I did not ask to see their birth certificates and family tree."

Baltimore County faced a similar dilemma last year when it tried to address residents' complaints about university students rooming together in the Towson area.

Baltimore County's law prohibits three or more unrelated people from living together. The county rewrote its rooming house law so landlords who rent single-family houses to groups of students can apply for yearly permits.

Violations of Anne Arundel County's law are common not only with landlords renting to college students, but in public housing as well, said Alderman Wayne Turner, head of the City Council's Housing and Community Development Committee.

The waiting list for public housing frequently prompts unrelated people to live together in houses administered by the city's Housing Authority, he said.

"I really think the law needs to be enforced," he said.

St. John's College has dormitory capacity for 300 students, but an enrollment of about 400, a school spokeswoman said.

Mr. Snowden was not prepared to say what limit he would place on the numbers of unrelated people living together, but remembering his own college days, he said, "We had eight and nine people living in a house and we did all right."

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