Need for College Student Rental Ordinance not Just a Mt. Pleasant Issue . . . this is a township issue!

Several neighborhood issues surfaced at the Mt. Pleasant’s Town Hall Meeting . . . some may be easier to resolve than others. It is recognized that there is currently no township ordinance for college student rentals in the township and unfortunately, I did not leave the meeting feeling that there was specific direction or a timeline for the creation of such an ordinance.  It is my understanding that Radnor Township’s student housing ordinance is a good model that could be used for Tredyffrin.  I have posted Radnor’s ordinance several times but here is it is again. 

How do we get the Board of Supervisors to listen to the Mt. Pleasant residents in their request for such an ordinance?  The need for an ordinance is not just a Mt. Pleasant issue; there are other areas of the township that have student housing issues.  Now that real estate investors have discovered  that Tredyffrin Township does not share neighboring municipalities regulations of college student rentals, it would seem that we are going to continue to see an influx of student housing in to the township.

Maybe it is OK that Tredyffrin homeowners have college students as their neighbors. Maybe our attitude should be if an investor wants to come in to the township, purchase properties and then turn the investment properties  in to college housing, we say so what?  After all, the college students are adding to the local economy.  My guess is that it might be OK by many of the residents, until it was their neighborhood, their street.  As long as the problem is in Mt. Pleasant, than why should the rest of us care?  Frankly, I don’t think the problem is that college students are renting the properties . . . I met several of the students in Mt. Pleasant and they were friendly, polite, nice kids.  The real problem is that without any rules and regulations (such as number of non-related occupants, noise, drinking, etc.) there is no real governance or enforcement if problems or issues arise between homeowners and college students.  At the Mt. Pleasant Town Hall meeting, one of the investors stated he was willing to add verbage in his student lease that would cover some of the residents issues.  Although the offer from the landlord is appreciated, there is no requirement for them to add the wording and the residents are left without an avenue for enforcement.

Mt. Pleasant does have distinct issues that may not be obvious in other areas of the township.  Mt. Pleasant is a family community whose properties may not be as pricey as found in other parts of Tredyffrin. (I noticed yesterday that there are 2 houses currently for sale on Mt. Pleasant Road.)  My guess is that real estate investors are able to purchase houses in Mt. Pleasant at a lower price than other areas such as Strafford, Devon, Great Valley.  They purchase the houses, update the houses (some create multiple apartments within the single family homes) and then they are ready to rent. 

I don’t know what the average rental price a family would pay to live in Mt. Pleasant but clearly the rental rates that the investors are able to command from the college students (and their parents) is far higher than would be typical of the neighborhood.  Mt. Pleasant rentals end up on Craigslist with rates from $1800/mo upward to nearly $3000/mo.  Certainly out of the reach of many prospective Mt. Pleasant families, . . . however this monthly rental rate is achievable if the landlord has multiple college students living together.  Take 6 students living in one of these houses and the monthly rate may actually only be $300/mo for each of the students.  I am not suggesting that we can (or should) regulate the rents that investors are able to receive from the students.  

Bottom line:  The redevelopment trend of township properties in to college rentals will probably continue . . . progress and change in neighborhoods should be accepted . . . but would you agree than a township ordinance to guide the movement would be helpful to all of us? 

A couple of other issues that surfaced at the town hall meeting was a Mt. Pleasant Road vacant lot and also the Henry Road development project of 8 townhouses and a single family house.  I visited Mt. Pleasant yesterday and took photos of these areas and will post them shortly.

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  1. Pattye,

    Thanks again for taking an interest in this ongoing issue. We all know that neighborhoods change, but why should residents be forced to suffer unnessarily? It’s going to be years and years before Mt. Pleasant becomes “Waynefield Commons”. We still have young families buying and renting houses. We have folks whose families have lived here for over 100 years. They have no intention of going anywhere any time soon. We are going to be dealing with this a long time.

    The one thing that suprised me at this meeting was the fact that the Twp had received complaints from many residents about the trash filled lots and vacant blighted houses over a long periond of time and had done nothing about it. These lots and houses were not in this condition when they were sold. Essentially they’ve been abandoned. And then at one point, someone from the Twp said that they weren’t sure what was going on with the vacant houses down on Henry, that maybe the developer was having financial problems. Please… I’m not going to feel sorry for some corporation that has enough money to buy up all these properties but not enough $$ to maintain or demolish them.

    Oh, and some of the landlords will “talk the talk but not walk the walk.” The guy who spoke out and offered to change the wording in his lease agreements is the one who owns two houses directly across the street from me. Both are over-occupied, one has had a shattered front window for months and the other has broken and dangerous tree limb hanging out over the street. I’ve had to call the Twp in order to get him to empty the trash cans and the cut the grass.

    Many of the students are very nice people.
    Often they will come up to the center (the Mazie Hall Park) and play basketball with the kids from the neighborhood. Students have attended some of the Mt. Pleasant Community Association meetings. They are interested in the history of Mt. Pleasant and want to be part of the neighborhood. What’s going on is not fair to them either.

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  2. “Township ordinance change costs taxpayers ALOT of money”-Mimi Gleason.

    Maybe township residents could work with the landlords and students instead of complaining about the issues and wanting government to fix everything. Some residents in mount pleasant want no change. I guess they like the delapidated houses, overgrown lots, and drugs. They are discrimintaing against college students and landlords. If they wanted to keep their community the way its been for 200 years they should have held onto the properties. If properties are for sale they are going to bought by people other than who live there.

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  3. Is that an accurate quote from Mimi? Why would ordinance change cost a lot of money??

    Ordinance violation can generate revenue in some circumstances with effective and proper enforcement.

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  4. Aren’t there occupancy rules in Tredyffrin as to how many people can live in a house, etc?

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    Pattye Reply:

    Chet,
    I am not sure whether there is a vagueness surrounding the ‘unrelated’ persons living together or more the enforcement of the unrelated persons. The problem is that even if there is an ordinance on the books that says x # of unrelated persons on a lease — often times, there may only be one or two students names on the lease and they then sublease to other students. That is how it has worked with my own daughter at med school. She rented a room in a house with a group of other kids but only one of them had their name on the lease.

    So from a violation standpoint, I think it could be difficult to enforce unless there is a college student housing ordinance and the landlords are required to register with the township (which is what Radnor requires). Having the landlords register and sign-off on the student housing ordinance, at least puts the responsibility on the shoulders of the landlord. (Also, there would be tracking if a problem were to exist of too many students in one house). If required registration by landlords were to happen, I think the situation would begin to change. I know that when I was in Mt. Pleasant and walked around one of the single-family homes (that is now a college rental), the real estate investor had actually created separate apartments with individual doors in the back — in other words, not obvious from the front of the house but this single family house was now multiple apartments. And my guess is that it is probably not zoned for multiple apartments — don’t know for sure, only guessing. Another indicator of multiple non-related people is you will sometimes see a row of mailboxes on the individual house for each of the students. I’m not saying that I have the answers to the problem but I think we at least need to acknowledge that the problem exists and work on it.

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    Laura Reply:

    I live in Radnor Township and we have been dealing with this issue for years now. If you want to prove that more than 2 unrelated people are residing in a property, there are two things you can do. Both of which has helped us to force the Township to take action against the landlords.

    1) Start documenting (photographically or videotaping) the cars that are parked in the driveway of the house in question. Write down license numbers adn car descriptions. Keep a log of the date and time you took the photo.

    2) Check with your local post office as to who lives there. It is public record. So, if more than 2 people are receving mail at that address, you now have proof.

    I know it sounds like a lot of trouble to do this, but if it solves the problem, then it’s worth it.

    Good luck.

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  5. Don’t think it’s all about MP either — the squeaky wheel gets the grease. There is a house on Francis Avenue near the train tracks in Berwyn — (other side of tracks from the Bagel Factory) It is overrun, filled with trash and frankly horrifying — but (I believe it’s Easttown) doesn’t seem to have any enforcement power there….or don’t bother to enforce. I said it in the sidewalk discussion and will say it again here — you cannot force a community — you build it — and we have lost our sense of community. It’s “my property” mentality — and the cost of enforcement (lawyers?) when you don’t have a relationship is too high.

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  6. There are ocupancy rules on the books now . enforcement and community involvement is the answer not ordinance changes. what good is a new law if you are frustrated now with current ones? will it be better with new exspensive laws? It will not solve the problem. Christine, maybe you should speak to the landlord directly instead of wanting the government to do everything for YOU.

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  7. I do not consider it my job to inform a landlord when his trash needs to be picked up, when his lawn needs to be mowed, when his window is broken, etc. This is the landlord’s responsibility, not mine. They are running a business and unless they are willing to pay me to act as property manager it is not a role I’m willing to accept.

    The current zoning ordinance is unenforceable.
    This is part of the issue.

    It is not difficult to amend/change an ordinance. Twp’s do it all the time. If you take a look at Chester County’s website, you will find a list of proposed ordinances from the 73 municipalities that make up this County.
    There are hundreds.

    We amended our zoning ordinance back in December 2008 because St. Peter’s Church wanted to be allowed to run a commercial business out of a portion of their church property. See below:

    Planning Commission Regular Meeting Minutes
    July 17, 2008

    St. Peter’s Church: Discussion of possible rezoning to permit its facilities to be used for meetings, retreats, or
    receptions.
    • Ross Unruh, speaking on behalf of St. Peter’s Church, explained that the church had built a very nice addition several years ago which is not being used during the week. Since the church is surrounded by the Great Valley Corporate Park, they were thinking of trying to rent the facility for meetings, conferences and the like. The church is currently in an R1/2 residence district with an Institutional Overlay. This zoning does not allow any commercial use of the building, so St. Peter’s is considering asking to have the property rezoned to a PIP (Planned Industrial Park) which would allow an accessory commercial use when granted as a conditional use per Section
    208-96.H(2). OR THEY WOULD LIKE TO DRAFT A TEXT TO CHANGE THE ZONING ORDINANCE which uses language similar to that in Section 208-96.H(2) for allowing accessory commercial uses in an IO district. Several Planning Commission members felt that a text change was the better way to go and Mr. Unruh agreed to write the text and submit it to the members for their approval at a future meeting.

    ORDINANCE NO. HR-373
    TREDYFFRIN TOWNSHIP
    CHESTER COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA
    AN ORDINANCE OF THE TOWNSHIP OF TREDYFFRIN,
    CHESTER COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA, AMENDING
    SECTION 208-45.F TO PERMIT A RELIGIOUS INSTITUTION TO
    HAVE A COMMERCIAL USE AS AN A C C E S S O R Y U S E WH E N A U TH O R I Z E D B Y CONDITIONAL USE; AND MISCELLANEOUS RULES AND R EGU L A T ION S . AND NOW, this 1st day of December, 2008, it is hereby ENACTED and ORDAINED by
    the Board of Supervisors of Tredyffrin Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, as follows:
    Section 1: Chapter 208, Article XIII of the Code, “IO Industrial District Overlay”, Section
    208-45.F. “Accessory uses including”, is amended by adding a new subsection 6, to read as
    follows:
    6) An accessory use which constitutes a commercial use serving a population beyond
    that of the religious institution shall be permitted when authorized as a conditional
    use. Conditional use approval separate and apart from the conditional use
    approval required for the primary use shall be required for any accessory use which
    constitutes a commercial use serving a population beyond that of the religious institution,
    and the applicant shall demonstrate to the reasonable satisfaction of the Board of
    Supervisors that:
    (a) The commercial use shall be consistent with the nature and character of the
    immediately surrounding community; and
    (b) The cumulative floor area of a building devoted to any such
    commercial use will be limited to a maximum of 50% of the floor area of
    the entire primary building; and
    (c) The proposed commercial use will not detrimentally affect traffic on any
    streets adjacent to the subject property or at any intersections providing
    access to the subject property; and
    (d) Traffic circulation on the subject property will be adequate to serve the
    proposed use of the subject property; and
    (e) At least seventy-five (75%) percent of the gross revenues generated by the
    proposed commercial use shall be payable to the religious institution; and
    (f) When the proposed commercial use is a nursery school or day-care center,
    the applicant shall demonstrate to the reasonable satisfaction of the Board of
    Supervisors, the following in addition to the standards listed above:
    (1) In addition to the general parking requirements of §208-103, an offstreet
    drop-off area sufficient to accommodate not less than one
    vehicle per five individuals enrolled; and
    (2) Any outdoor area for play or recreation will be fenced or otherwise
    screened from an adjacent property line and shall be located so as
    to minimize unreasonable disturbance to neighboring properties; and
    (3) The facility shall be licensed by the applicable departments of the
    Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and comply with their regulations.
    Section 2: If any sentence, clause, section or part of this Ordinance is for any reason found to
    be unconstitutional, illegal or invalid, such unconstitutionality, illegality or invalidity shall not
    affect or impair any of the remaining provisions, sentences, clauses, sections or parts of this
    Ordinance. It is hereby declared as the intent of the Board of Supervisors that this Ordinance
    would have been adopted had such unconstitutional, illegal or invalid sentence, clause, section or
    part thereof not been included herein.
    Section 3: All ordinances or parts of ordinances conflicting or inconsistent herewith are
    hereby repealed.
    Section 4: This Ordinance will become effective thirty-one (31) days after enactment.
    ENACTED AND ORDAINED this 1st day of December, 2008.
    ATTEST: TREDYFFRIN TOWNSHIP
    Mimi Gleason, Secretary Warren E. Kampf, Chairman

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  8. If there are laws on the books they should be enforced or changed. It is ridiculous to think a landlord and tenant can get around occupancy laws by having one or two sign the lease, then have the Darling Clan come down from the mountains into Mayberry and move in. Should be easy to enforce.

    But I am wondering, will these laws protect neighbors and neighborhoods if say a family of 7 lives nextdoor and has teenage kids who are unsupervised and rowdy and do all the stuff college kids do? So not only occupancy laws but code of conduct laws will need to be enforced..

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