Occupancy affidavits for smaller rental properties mulled by Bloomington city council

Excerpt from definition of “family” in Bloomington’s unified development ordinance (UDO).

Owners of Bloomington rental properties with four or fewer units might have to start submitting “a fully executed occupancy affidavit” to the city’s housing and neighborhood development (HAND) department.

Under a new ordinance proposed by the city’s administration, owners and tenants alike would need to sign statements about the number of adult occupants in a rental unit, and their relationship to each other.

The idea is to enforce the definition of a “family” in the city’s unified development ordinance (UDO). Bloomington’s UDO sets a limit of three for the number of unrelated adults who count as a family.

Adults who are related by blood or marriage are not restricted in number in the UDO’s definition of a family.

At its Wednesday meeting, the city council’s housing committee gave the administration’s proposed ordinance a first look. With a few grumbles, the committee voted unanimously to send the ordinance to the full council for possible enactment at the council’s June 2 meeting.

According to the first “whereas” clause in the ordinance, the city has trouble enforcing against over-occupancy for residential rental units.

The second “whereas” clause says that “over-occupancy in residential rental units presents dangers to the health and safety of the people living in and around said units.”

That clause drew some criticism from councilmember Kate Rosenbarger, who said, “I have a hard time with that clause, because there are a lot of homes that, of course, allow more than three adults.” She added, “I don’t see a difference between a home with two grandparents, two adults and two kids. I mean, is that a health problem? Is that a danger to neighbors?”

Councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith also chafed at the wording in the second “whereas” clause. She said, “That also struck me as a little extreme. So I don’t know if we can say that ‘may present dangers’ or something like that, because it just didn’t didn’t ring true.”

Piedmont-Smith continued, “I also agree with councilmember Rosenbarger, that similar dangers could result in other situations where the city has not proposed to have an affidavit. So I think we might just reconsider that clause.”

Piedmont-Smith said she was interested in possibly strengthening the ordinance so that it would require tenants to sign the affidavit annually, even if they stay as tenants in the same building. Owners, under the proposed ordinance, would have to sign the affidavit annually, but could fill in “no change in occupants” if the tenants remain the same.

Councilmember Matt Flaherty is also not in support of the second “whereas” clause and suggested just striking it. He is not interested right now in re-visiting the basic definition of a family that limits the number of unrelated adults in a family to three.

Flaherty said, “I think there are pros and cons to this three-unrelated-adults policy. And I’m not proposing changing it right now or anything like that. But I think we should be very clear that this ordinance is to help enforce that policy decision that has already been made, and is not specifically about danger and about safety.”

Councilmember Jim Sims, the fourth member of the council’s housing committee, wanted to know if the proposed affidavit would be related to the rental registration with the city. He wanted to know if the signatures that are on an occupancy affidavit would be verified through signatures on leases.

Assistant attorney Daniel Dixon told Sims that the ordinance, as it is drafted right now, would not require that an owner or management company provide HAND with a copy of leases that would verify occupant signatures on the affidavits.

Bloomington has some rental properties that are grandfathered in under older city code that allowed five unrelated adults to live together in a rental property.

Under the proposed new ordinance, it would be just buildings with four or fewer units that would require the owner to submit an occupancy affidavit. But buildings with more than four units could fall under the new local law, if the city receives a complaint about occupancy concerning the residential rental unit.

Asked about the reason for choosing buildings with four units or fewer as a threshold, HAND director John Zody told the committee, “That is the threshold to receive city services—recycling, trash, yard waste, that sort of thing. And so we thought that was a good threshold, right now.”

Zody noted that the four-unit threshold could change at the discretion of the city council.

2 thoughts on “Occupancy affidavits for smaller rental properties mulled by Bloomington city council

  1. The 3-unrelated persons limit is noted in this podcast as being one element of policies that limit density and housing options for low income people. Here in Bloomington it is widely viewed as being a “protect our neighborhoods from students and exploitative landlords” measure. This seems a good time to revisit that framing, for it surely has many effects. Perhaps policy should address specific issues more directly?


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