Two local property owners were fined about $60,000 by the town of Chapel Hill after the town found 12 people were living at a property at 135 North St.
The town’s occupancy rule, which was added to the town’s land use management ordinance in 2003, states that no more than four unrelated people can live in one residential house.
The owners of the property at 135 North St., James Bulbrook and Whitney Long, were first fined $23,400 for breaking that law in May 2013, according to town documents.
Bulbrook and Long haven’t paid the fine, town documents indicate. Neither could be reached for comment and current tenants in the home declined to comment.
Mark Patmore, the owner of Mercia Residential Properties, said the town conducted a second inspection this year and found the violations persisted, fining the owners about $60,000.
If there are more than five unrelated people living in a house, then it needs to be built to state commercial fire codes, which include installing sprinkler systems and fire escapes, among other requirements, Patmore said.
The North Street property was not built to those codes, so it was not equipped to house that many people.
The town’s Inspections Department received complaints about the amount of people living in the house from other residents in November 2012, which caused the department to inspect the property and find the violations .
During the inspection the town found there were 12 people living on the property. They also found that there were 11 bedrooms on the property, as opposed to the four bedrooms mentioned in the original building plans, which constituted another violation.
This caused the town to condemn the property, meaning it temporarily could not be used. The home is no longer condemned, and now has different tenants.
Five other properties received fines for similar violations in 2013, but the fine given to Bulbrook and Long was the largest ever given by the town for this violation, according to town records.
Former Student Body President Christy Lambden formed a work group to address the four-person occupancy ordinance and spoke to the Chapel Hill Town Council last month about repealing the rule to allow more students to live together. He recommended raising the limit to six unrelated people.
Having that many people living in one house is a safety concern for the town, Patmore said.
“Twelve people in a house that’s not built to commercial code — yeah, that’s pretty much unsafe,” Patmore said. “If there ever was a fire, who knows what would happen.”
While Patmore said 12 residents in a house not up to code is excessive, he took issue with the four-person limit, which he sees as unnecessarily restrictive.
“Should it be four?” Patmore said. “No, that’s just a complete waste of real estate.”