The struggle for peaceful coexistence in neighborhoods sometimes pits students against other residents in a battle of words.
But members of the Chapel Hill Rental Licensing Task Force, which met for the first time Thursday night, aim to address and alleviate the problems associated with neighborhood cohesion. Tensions between students and their permanent neighbors have been growing in the last year, especially in the Northside community located near the border of Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
The task force gathered at the Chapel Hill Public Library to discuss options concerning rental licensing and other affordable housing issues. Rental licensing is a process that requires landlords to inspect property for damages, increasing the cost to the landlords, and ultimately, the renters.
Brittany Whitesell, a UNC-student member of the task force, said students around campus should be concerned with rental licensing.
"It's directed at students," she said. "The whole idea of rental licensing arose from complaints. The houses that would be affected by rental licensing are the houses that students would rent due to cost and location."
Task force member and property manager Steve Mills, who helped create a Residential Rental Responsibility Program last spring with former Graduate and Professional Student Federation President Lee Conner, explained the responsibility the task force faces. "What we need is a system in place that deals with responsibility and cooperation," Mills said.
Mills and Conner have proposed an alternative to rental licensing that has received some attention from the committee - privileged licensing. Under this, landlords must obtain a $10 privilege license before renting their property to tenants, which would go to a database accessible by the community. Landlords would then spell out responsibilities of the landlords to the tenants as part of the lease.
Privileged licensing also would use existing town ordinances to deal with problems like the maximum number of tenants in one property and where they can park. "Privilege licensing is a term we coined," Conner said. "It's a version of rental licensing."
Conner said the town is counting on the task force to reach important decisions. "We have a directive from the (Chapel Hill) Town Council, and we're all going to get together to discuss rental licensing," he said. "My goal is to assess where everyone is coming from regarding viewpoints."
Residents of many neighborhoods containing both homeowners and student renters have expressed concern with their living environments.
But Joe Capowski, resident of Coolidge Road, said he has never had a problem with the behavior of students in his neighborhood. "Students are human beings. If you treat them well, they will treat you well (in return)," he said.
Capowski said he did have some concern for the image of his neighborhood, as he dislikes the amount of cars many of the rental properties contain. But he said many landlords do not take action against such abuses because they believe it is the responsibility of Chapel Hill police to deal with neighborhood problems.
"There seems to be this concept that the Chapel Hill Police Department is somebody's mother," Capowski said.
But members of the Northside community said they do not agree with Capowski's sentiments toward student renters. "We're finding that the houses are overcrowded with students and cars and that the students are insolent," said resident Estelle Mabry. "We don't feel that the students respect us at all."
Mabry also addressed the effect of renting on affordable housing.
"Every time a house is sold for as a rental property, it's one less affordable house for the community," she said.
Conner and Mills also used the task force meeting to voice their concern about communication between renters and landlords through privilege licensing. "We want something that can be accessed by the renters," Conner said. "We want to address the issue of absentee landlords."
Mills and Conner said they are both against rental licensing for the time being. "Our feeling is that you can always go to a strict rental licensing program down the road, if a compromise fails," Mills said. "But you can't go backward."
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