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Town of Chapel Hill debates limit on number of unrelated housing occupants in a college town

Student housing off of North Columbia Street. 

Student housing off of North Columbia Street. 

The Town of Chapel Hill’s housing code puts an occupancy limit of no more than four unrelated people that may reside in the same dwelling unit. 

“'Dwelling unit’ shall mean any room or group of rooms located within a dwelling and forming a single habitable unit with facilities which are used or intended to be used for living, sleeping, cooking and eating,” according to the Town of Chapel Hill’s Housing Code.

Chapel Hill Town Council member Michael Parker said the rule was adopted for the neighborhoods of Chapel Hill.

“The purpose was largely to protect our neighborhoods and to avoid potential conflicts between homeowners and college students,” Parker said. “I think that generally speaking, it is viewed as something that offers some utility to our neighborhoods.”

Parker said he could not speak to when the rules were adopted, as it was before his tenure on town council. He said students have come to the council to express their displeasure of the rule. 

"A couple of years ago, some students petitioned the council that the rule should be relaxed," he said. "I know certainly that parts of the students community have expressed displeasure with it."

Franklin Street Realty agent Hillary Fisher said it’s hard for her to have an opinion on the rule because she understands the arguments both for the rule and against it.

“I understand what a hardship it would be on students because it’s making the rent per room go up. It’s expensive,” she said. “I can also see it from the non-student perspective, who’s maybe a neighbor to students who have parties, and that can be a nuisance. So there are two sides of it.”

Bill Bracey, owner of Arbor Realty and broker for Franklin Street Realty, said he thinks the rules should be adopted for different zones in Chapel Hill, rather than the entire town.

"To make it a rule for the entire town, that’s just people trying to make their lives easier to have a simple, straightforward, black and white rule,” he said. "It would be better if there were areas of town where it was expected (to have more than four people) and that be totally fine, and other areas where it’d be completely inappropriate.”

Bracey owns and is the landlord of a five-bedroom property off of East Rosemary Street, but he says he abides by the housing code and only rents out four of the rooms for fear of being sued if the fifth tenant got kicked out. 

Any more than four unrelated people results in fines of up to $100 per day after the first offense, $200 per day after the second offense within 180 days, and then $500 per day after the third offense within 365 days.

Bracey said he understands the need for the rule, but that it hurts college students.

“I get it why it exists, but it’s unfortunate because for one thing, rents are expensive, and it helps college students to have people share the rent," he said. "A lot of the reasons from both sides are understandable."


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