Councilor pushes for roommate limitation

by Beacon Staff • February 25, 2009

Boston City Council President Michael P. Ross wants to make five an unlucky number for off-campus students. On Feb. 2, Ross proposed a new ordinance that would require colleges and universities to inform the city when more than four students are living together in an off-campus residence, a follow up to an ordinance he pushed through last March that made it illegal for over four students to share a rented house or apartment.

Vice President of Public Affairs David Rosen said Emerson opposes the ordinance, and would only release student information if bound by law.

"It's not ethical or fair to single out college undergraduates like this," he said.

There is currently no fool proof way for the city to determine if students are violating the housing cap, according to the city's Inspectional Services. Because of federal privacy laws, the Inspectional Services are only able to locate violators when they receive a complaint, said Dion Irish, the Assistant Commissioner for the Housing Division.

Ross's communication director, Amy Derjue, said the cap is necessary, citing problems that can sometimes result from students in crowded living situations.

Derjue said the main problem lies with landlords that renovate properties in order to add more bedrooms, and then rack up rent prices. These residences, which are primarily marketed towards college students, are prevalent in areas of Allston, Brighton and Mission Hill.

"Landlords are putting up walls and insulating porches to add bedrooms," Derjue said, adding that the higher rent prices unfairly increases property taxes for neighborhood residents.

While the city claims the cap will help shield students from scheming landlords, some students believe that it will do more harm than good. Junior Roger Tower said it takes away an affordable way for students to live off campus.

Tower, who recently signed a lease with nine other people for a Brookline house, also said news of Ross's most recent proposal is unnerving, and is an invasion of student privacy.

"I don't think it's going to benefit the community at all, there are college students living everywhere and that's not going to change," the marketing communications major said.

Ross's proposal would require college and universities to collect the addresses of all their students twice a year, and then review the information for the names of multiple students living at the same address and report violators to the city.

Senior Morgan Dubin said she thinks the ordinance stereotypes college students as being troublemakers.

"It's pretty stupid. I live with four people and who are all really responsible and don't cause any problems," the writing, literature and publishing major said. "It's definitely an invasion of privacy."

Asking colleges to compile student information is unrealistic, said Off-Campus Student Services Coordinator Elin Riggs. In an e-mail, Riggs said most students do not update their local addresses with the college, so the information is not readily available.

"Compiling this information would be a time consuming and ongoing task. I don't believe there has been a lot of thought into the impact this would have on the colleges," she said.

Derjue denied that Ross's proposal is a creative way to go around federal privacy laws. She said administrations already report off campus student ZIP codes to the city, and the proposal is only asking them to take it one step further.

On March 2, Ross will meet with the committee of Government Operations to determine specific punishments for violators. But, Derjue said, any disciplinary action would be primarily targeted towards landlords.

"We're trying to put pressure on landlords," she said. "This is not something to single out students."

There is no set date for when the city council may vote the ordinance into law at the moment.