Fortson: U + 2 occupancy law and changes in enforcement are too extreme for students

Lyric Fortson

Anyone who lives in the city of Fort Collins knows about U + 2. And it’s safe to say that if you’re a college student, you probably despise it. I know I do.

U + 2 is an occupancy ordinance enforced by the city of Fort Collins stating that no more than three unrelated tenants can live in same establishment. Fort Collins has enforced occupancy restrictions since 1964, originally to control immigration. It progressed over the years into the law we all love to hate, partly because it’s not about immigration anymore at all. 

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According to Dale Woods, Fort Collins senior compliance investigator of occupancy, “The U + 2 has been on the city council’s radar for a while now, and they’re actually currently asking the staff to get a pulse of what global neighborhood livability means in this day and age, but no major change has been implemented yet.”

Woods also explained that the law was revised in 2005 by the City Council when they decided the law should be a civil infraction rather than a criminal offense. This eliminated the possibility of jail time, but brought the fines up a hefty amount — and the burden of proof substantially decreased. Rather than needing hard evidence of an occurring violation as they did in the past, all an occupancy inspector like Woods needs is preponderance of the evidence, which roughly translates to: if they seem to be breaking the law, “more likely than not,” they are.

According to the City of Fort Collins website, “the City addresses occupancy to help ensure health and safety of residents, and to help protect the quality and character of neighborhoods.” Where is the correlation in that? How would having three people pay $600 for a $1,800 five bedroom house that was built to accommodate that many people make anyone healthier? 

How on God’s green earth would four people living in a four bedroom house be a safety hazard? As for the quality aspect, three college students could to do just as much damage as four or five if they wanted to, or five could be cleaner than three. It should be taken case by case, and not just be assumed that three college students in one house is all good and well, but if there’s four of them, all hell breaks loose. The neighborhoods are trashed and the sun falls out of the sky, every time, no exceptions.

It shouldn’t even be a question that people should be able to fill residence to capacity based on how many people the house was build to hold.

Another aspect of the law states that if you have a guest stay the night with you more than 30 nights in one year, they are considered an actual resident of the house. I’m going to let that sink in. If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend or even a parent of sibling who stays the night more than 2.5 times a month, they are legally a resident of your house.

It serves no purpose logical purpose, and in the end, just put college students under more stress in many different aspects; one of them being emotionally. If they’re in violation, they’re ever at risk of getting caught by stingy neighbors, the police, or the people who get paid by the city to patrol neighborhoods specifically to bust kids for this law. And if they do get busted, they’re facing a $1,000 fine,10 days to pay it and an eviction notice.

Is this the cartel that we’re dealing with or the city we’re supposed to call home?

It also puts an extreme financial burden on those who want to cooperate with the city and respect U + 2. It’s safe to assume that a good amount of the houses in the city are more than three bedroom, and the money college students are paying to make up for the roommate they’re not legally allowed to have in an empty room built to house another human isn’t an amount most can shake out of the couch.

But doing just that and respecting the U + 2 is about to get a lot harder — CSU welcomed its largest freshman class in the University’s history in the 2015 fall semester. 4,737 new students; nine percent more than last year, almost all of whom are living on campus now but at this time in the year are trying to find a lease to sign out in the city for next year. Total enrollment as of 2015 is 32,236 students, and 75 percent live off-campus.

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According to police records obtained by Woods, there have been 62 U + 2 violation citations given in the last five years, with 2015 having the most issued citations since 2011 at a whopping 16. There have been four already in 2016.  

No longer is this law just implausible, it’s dancing on the brink of impossible. I’ve signed a couple petitions for a revision of the law to be made and to change the U + 2 to Me + 3, but even then, with growing acceptance rates and an inevitable increase of rent due to high demand of housing and low supply, this just isn’t going to suffice. CSU students need to come together collectively and petition the law as a whole; we have enough to deal with as it is without adding housing, high rent and eviction by the city we live in.

Collegian Columnist Lyric Fortson can be reached at letters@collegian.com, or on Twitter @lfortson927.