“The issue is all about maintaining the single-family character of single-family neighborhoods,” said Williamsburg City Manager Jackson Tuttle. The problem for off-campus students, however, is the definition of single-family:
“A number of persons, not exceeding three, living and cooking together as a single housekeeping unit though not related by blood, adoption, marriage or guardianship,” is part of the definition single-family, according to the Code of the City of Williamsburg. It also includes a single person, a group of directly related people, and a group of related people with one unrelated person, though it is “exclusive of household servants.”
Cities like Williamsburg are “zoned,” which means limits are put on what activities can go on in certain zones. Many off-campus students rent homes in areas zoned for single-family residential purposes, making them subject to the three-person limitation.
“College towns can make laws like this, and they’ve been challenged before to no avail,” said Jacob Rooksby, Secretary of Public Affairs for the William and Mary Student Assembly. His department has been working to open lines of communication with the City to advocate for students.
“We’re going to establish something this year that sets a precedent,” said Rooksby. He hopes the work the SA does now will begin a tradition of cooperation between College and Community on the issue of students living off-campus.
As he pointed out, however, the law has been on books for decades. The reason for a recent rash of debate and newly revisited legal consequences for those who do not cooperate is the City’s new rental registration and inspection system.
The new system makes it easier for the City to catch violators through scheduled annual inspections of rental properties, though complaints from neighbors can still bring about charges. According to Tuttle there is one active case of enforcing this policy going on now.
“It’s my opinion that a lot of landlords are aware of the situation and even encouraging it,” said SA Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Lane Robison. She believes that renters may be duped into having three students sign a lease for a house while more actually live there.
“We would like the landlords to step in and be more active to ensure their properties are in compliance,” said Tuttle. He notes, however, that the three students who have signed the lease are not affected. “The goal of enforcement activity in zoning matters is to get people to come into compliance.”
“It is a zoning requirement, and my advice would be to plan to get in compliance,” said Tuttle of students who may currently be violating the policy. The Student Assembly, on the other hand, mentioned that being a good neighbor in general might save students from trouble later.
“They’re not going to look too hard to find an extra mattress stuffed under a bed somewhere,” said Robison, with the condition that students be in compliance with all other regulations and not bring complaints from neighbors upon themselves. “There are definitely things that residents can do to not draw attention to themselves.”
“What neighbors really care about is cars, trash, traffic and noise,” said Student Assembly President Brian Cannon, also stressing the importance of being good neighbors.
All involved look forward to fixing problems and increasing communication:
“We do need to do a better job from the city side, and I think from the college side – on this and a lot of other student in city neighborhood issues,” said Tuttle.
“They essentially just turn a blind eye to it,” said College Economics Department Chairman and Williamsburg City Councilman Clyde Haulman, referring to the Administration.
This problem, however, is soon to be fixed as Rooksby and his department work with the College Administration and the City of Williamsburg to create means of educating students on living off-campus.