Four's a crowd

Tenants face eviction because of city occupancy code

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Landlord Scott Wedel sits outside his duplex at 2075 Walton Creek Road in Steamboat Springs. Wendel's nine tenants could face eviction Sept. 4 if a city ordinance is upheld.

— Nine tenants of a duplex on Walton Creek Road face eviction because of a rarely enforced city zoning law.

The law states that no more than three unrelated adults can live in a single-family residence, such as a house or duplex unit. Steamboat Springs staff attorney Dan Foote said that in a multi-family residence, such as a townhome or a condominium, city zoning laws allow for as many as five unrelated adults to live together. Different parts of the city are zoned for single-family or multi-family residences, Foote said.

In a resort community that lures large numbers of seasonal workers and young adults, shared living spaces are as easy to find as fresh powder in January. Traditionally, city officials do not go out of their way to enforce occupancy violations.

But a series of noise complaints and disputes with neighbors at 2075 Walton Creek Road drew attention to the large log house near the intersection with AprÃs Ski Way. City officials investigated and found that five unrelated men live in the upstairs unit of the duplex, and two unmarried couples live in the downstairs unit. The house is on a plot zoned for single-family residency.

Landlord Scott Wedel said that early in July, he received a letter from city planner Dave Gardner giving him until Sept. 4 to evict his tenants or face daily fines.

"It's a relatively common living situation, and yet (enforcement) happens about as often as a murder in Steamboat," said Wedel, of Shady Curry Holdings LLC on Caribou Lane.

Enforcement occurs slightly more often than Wedel's estimation - while a murder hasn't occurred in Steamboat since 2000, city officials enforced the occupancy zoning law in 2005.

"The last one that we had to deal with was about a year and a half ago in the Meadow Lane area, but that case has been resolved," Foote said. "There are no other current issues with occupancy - Wedel is the only one I am aware of right now."

Noise complaints from neighbors and a "focus on the behavior of the occupants" drew city officials to the Meadow Lane residence in 2005, Foote said.

That piece of history is repeating itself at 2075 Walton Creek Road.

Neighbors fed up

Steamboat Springs Public Safety Director J.D. Hays said eight noise complaints regarding 2075 Walton Creek have been made since Jan. 1, 2005. Five of those complaints occurred this year - May 7, May 25, May 30, June 7 and June 18.

One neighbor said loud noise and out-of-control parties have been common in the neighborhood for years.

Cathy Arentz lives at 2940 Columbine Drive, not far from the intersection of Walton Creek Road and AprÃs Ski Way.

"They've just run amok," Arentz said of current and previous tenants at 2075 Walton Creek, 2077 Walton Creek and a nearby residence on Aspres Ski Way. "It has gotten to the point where our neighbors are afraid of these people."

Arentz said a mediation meeting was held with the tenants, neighbors and Steamboat Springs Police officers earlier this year, but when the noise continued, neighbors took further action.

"We banded together as a group of people and went to the City Council," Arentz said.

Another neighbor may have gone further.

Mark Schiebel also lives on Columbine Drive. On April 24, Steamboat police arrested Schiebel on suspicion of misdemeanor charges of cruelty to an animal and harassment, along with suspicion of a petty offense charge for disorderly conduct. Hays said Schiebel allegedly kicked a dog owned by a 2075 Walton Creek tenant, during a verbal dispute at the house.

Schiebel said the dog attacked him, and that he is pleading not guilty to all the charges. His jury trial begins Friday in Routt County Court. Because of the pending trial, Schiebel declined to discuss the situation further.

Seeking shelter

Julie Broussard lives in the downstairs unit at 2075 Walton Creek with her boyfriend, Scott Smith, and another unmarried couple. All four tenants work in Steamboat, for employers including local restaurants and Yampa Valley Medical Center. Broussard said she and Smith moved into the unit about a year ago, after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their New Orleans neighborhood.

In a letter to the Steamboat Pilot & Today, Broussard said the actions of previous tenants and neighbors are casting her and her roommates in a falsely negative light.

"I think we are being held responsible for things our neighbors did, like having loud parties all the time," Broussard wrote. "We moved here because I thought this small community would be a great place to start my life over : how are young people supposed to be able to live here if you can't have more than three people living together?"

At Tuesday's Steamboat Springs City Council meeting, the four downstairs tenants and Wedel pleaded their case to council members and asked that the code not be enforced, at least until the council could review the city zoning law.

"As soon as we got here, we got jobs," Smith told the council, wearing a hat representing the New Orleans Saints football team. "The parties and all the dogs and noise was the neighbors to the left of us, and they're gone. Please, don't make us move."

Council President Ken Brenner said the enforcement will remain in place. Brenner directed city staff to prepare a memo outlining details of the zoning law, for council discussion Tuesday.

Wedel said given that decision, he had no choice but to give his tenants 30 days notice, rather than wait until after Tuesday's discussion to tell his tenants whether they need to be out by September.

Smith said he does not have savings to afford the security deposit and last month's rent required at a new residence. He left the meeting incredulous.

"I couldn't believe (Brenner) said to push it onto a memo," Smith said. "This is our life."

A tenant in the upstairs unit at 2075 declined to give his name or be interviewed Friday. At least four dogs were in the house's yard Friday. Beer-bottle caps were scattered around a barbecue pit.

Another look

Council member Steve Ivancie said he is familiar with the living situation at 2075 Walton Creek.

"I once lived in a situation similar to that," Ivancie said. "There were four of us who were unrelated, living in a big house. We were just trying to find a place to live cheaply, and trying to put a roof over our heads - I really didn't see any problem with it."

Ivancie and council member Loui Antonucci said it may be time to review the occupancy zoning law.

"I know the city and the police department are just enforcing the rules on the books, but if it's an inappropriate law, it's important for us to review it," Ivancie said.

"I think we should have that discussion at some point. I'm not sure (the law) makes sense," Antonucci said.

Ivancie said the issue is especially relevant given the city's ongoing efforts to supply affordable housing.

"People will do what they have to do to put a roof over their head, in a way that they can afford to do it," Ivancie said. "It's always been expensive to live in Steamboat, and it's not getting any cheaper."

- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203

or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

Comments

Scott Wedel 8 years, 4 months ago

A signigicant factual error in the article is that there was mediation AFTER the neighbors complained about the rental houses in the neighborhood. The mediation meeting was with Cathy Arentz in the middle of June. From my tenants' perspective, the most important part of the mediation meeting was the mediator telling Cathy Arentz that people sitting around a BBQ does not warant a noise complaint. My tenants acknowledged that one of the noise complaints was valid and was the result of a end of season celebration, but that the other noise complaints resulted in the police coming there and determining the complaint was not valid. I do not know of any noise complaints since the mediation meeting.

Also, Dan Foote told me on July 17th that the last enforcement of this was eight years ago for a house on Montview. In the artcile he is quoted as says it was also enforced more recently. Thus, I was wrong to tell the reporter that enforcement of this was less frequent than murder in Steamboat, but I was passing on what Dan Foote had told me.

A key fact not well described in the article is that it does not require a noise complaint, four dogs (on two thirds of an acre) or even bottle caps near a fire department approved BBQ pit for the city to enforce this ordinance. It only takes one complaint to the city questioning the number of adults living at a residence.

It is also not mentioned that there is no limit on the number of adults that may live in a house if all are related. So while it is not okay for two couples to share a two bedroom house or five guys to share a five bedroom house, it would be okay for a larger group of brothers, uncles, distant coisins and so on to share the same house.

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fish 8 years, 4 months ago

That might all be true, but as the landlord shouldn't the buck stop with you. Shouldn't you know what the laws are about renting out space in Steamboat, before you do it. The extra renters should not have been allowed to move in to start with. I guess you really didn't care how many people it took to make the rent payments as long as you got your money. If all of these people are listed on the lease it would seem to me that you should be the one held responsible for an illegal rental.

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Scott Wedel 8 years, 4 months ago

But the way to address noisy neighbors is by having a stronger noise ordinance. I do not see how evicting current tenants fwhen most of the sins cited are of previous tenants makes any sense.

And the current ordinance would let me rent to any number of adults if all are related by blood, marraige or adoption. New tenants upstairs could be 8 adults, all related, maybe all speak another language and maybe some speak some english.

And I had no idea Steamboat had any sort of occupancy ordinance. There were 10 people living in the upstairs unit and four unrelated adults downstairs when we bought the place.

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fish 8 years, 4 months ago

Then I guess that you need to find a very large family to rent to. Currently you are breaking the law. If you don't like the law change it. But as it stands you are responsible for knowing what the law is. It is easy to claim you didn't know, that is why you can't use it as a defense. Also a good landlord would try to get along with the neighbors and do something about the problems in the neighborhood. Maybe if your rental property was in your backyard you would try harder to aleviate the problems.

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Chuck_Williamson 8 years, 4 months ago

Let's be real here. For Mr. Wedel to attempt to characterize the situation as isolated to only one valid noise complaint is disingenuous. His house and the one next door have both become notorious party homes in Steamboat with a years-long track record. One doesn't have to search too far to find accounts of horrendous behavior perpetrated by the occupants. It's common knowledge Mr. Wedel.

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Chuck_Williamson 8 years, 4 months ago

Mr. Wedel also seems to be suggesting that the zoning laws are rarely violated, and certainly rarely enforced. While it's true the laws are rarely enforced, it is not because of a lack of violations or complaints. The real reason is a near refusal on the part of the city staff and the police to enforce the code they are charged with enforcing for us. If the truth about the city's conduct when confronted with these complaints were known, they would face a public outcry. Their conduct is shameful, and their refusal to act contributes directly to the unnecessary escalation of these situations.

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Chuck_Williamson 8 years, 4 months ago

Mr. Brenner should be commended for having the courage to insist that the enforcement remain in place. The law was written to protect against exactly the kind of problems that have been manifested at Mr. Wedel's property. Mr. Ivancie and Mr. Antonucci should be called into question for even suggesting that the zoning be changed to allow for this kind of occupancy. They seem to suggest that these poor people have nowhere else to go. That couldn't be further from the truth. The city has zone districts where these people could legally occupy multi-family dwelling units. It's called the MF zone district. The very definition of the RN zone district, however, contemplates single-family occupancy, so to discard that element of the zone district would essentially end the existence of the zone district itself. What they are really suggesting, perhaps without even realizing it, is that we should simply do away with zoning altogether. But that would be a huge mistake, and I think Mr. Ivancie and Mr. Antonucci might understand that if they had a similar situation in their neighborhood. Zoning districts like the RN zone district in question here are common in nearly every community. The language governing our zone districts are boilerplate and have been consistently upheld in courts of law, including the Supreme Court of The United States in the landmark Euclid case. The laws are clearly written to protect the rights, character of neighborhood, quality of life, and economic value that stems from those qualities for homeowner's who have worked hard to purchase a home in a single-family neighborhood from those who do not have such an interest and seem incapable of demonstrating an ounce of respect for anyone. The very decision to purchase in these zone districts is often based in large part on the expectation that the zone district laws will be enforced. Remember, their home is often the single biggest investment a person makes, purchased with the expectation, under law, that when it's in a single-family zone district, the houses surrounding it will be legally occupied by single families. Why should their investment and quality of life be compromised when the folks illegally occupying adjacent homes have other legal alternatives available? Think about it Steve and Loui.

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