Judge stops order from three unrelated tenants | News

NARRAGANSETT, RI — A Superior Court judge on Monday blocked Narragansett from enforcing his controversial order that limits the number of students who can live in rental homes to three unrelated people.

Judge Sarah Taft-Carter granted a motion to end the ordinance in a year-long case brought by Narragansett 2100, which represents tenants and landlords, against the city.

The move means the city is unable to enforce the new ordinance until a court rules on its legality.

“We don’t have a timeline on when a decision will be made on this,” City Manager James Tierney said. “But as of now, we won’t apply it until the court has completed its review.”

Supporters and haters of Narragansett’s tenancy law spoke about it at Monday’s town council meeting.

“It is a bitter disappointment to the many residents who have fought for this for years,” resident Harry Schofield said Monday of Taft-Carter’s order. “I hope the city wins.”

He went on to accuse a “mafia cabal” of out-of-town landlords of controlling local affairs.

“I just hope that when people go to the polls in November, they vote for candidates who support zoning ordinances that are favorable to residents and against out-of-town homeowners,” he said.

Student tenants and some landlords also took the floor to denounce the city’s decision to create a registry of the names and addresses of student tenants. The registry was partly related to the enforcement of the “three students” order.

Speakers called the registration requirement an invasion of privacy and accused the city of “too broad”. They also worried about potential abuse of the system, such as if the database were to be hacked or otherwise accessed illegally.

“As a woman, I’m very threatened by what’s going on,” said URI Student Senate President Grace Kiernan, a resident of Sand Hill Cove. “With today’s society, it’s not fair that our news is out there that we are living alone for the first time away from our parents in a house.”

Kiernan also said URI’s 6,000 students who live off-campus support many of the city’s businesses in the fall and winter.

“What are they going to do if you eliminate this community? Also, where would you like us to go, sleep at a campsite? Because there is no other option,” she said. “URI is the state’s flagship university and you should want these students to thrive and receive the best education possible.”

Landlords also criticized rental records.

“To me, it’s unnecessary, intrusive, and serves no practical or legitimate purpose,” Karen Liner said. She has been renting out her house for nine years, and a signed and dated lease is posted on the back of her door.

“It’s for first responders in an emergency,” she said. “This information on the registration form is supposed to be kept internally. However, this information may still be accessible by others. The sole purpose of this information is to catch offenders, but at the cost of student tenant safety and privacy. Really, I think it’s just a fishing expedition by the self-proclaimed ordinance police.

The board took no action on the tenancy order on Monday’s agenda, and the case continues in the Taft-Carter courtroom, although no hearing is scheduled.

“I think I would have felt exactly the same as the students if I was in school,” Council Chairman Jesse Pugh said. “I’m not going to say the database can’t be hacked. However, URI has a database with all of their student names and addresses, so it could be hacked. He listed other cases such as an Airbnb rental, local schools and medical practices that have databases containing personal information that could be hacked.

Pugh went on to explain that the purpose of the registry was to help building officials enforce the Three-Student Order in cases where tenants won’t open their doors to city officials or the tenants’ lease isn’t open. is not displayed on the property.

“I understand the opposition to the order. It’s been a long debate here. I think the sign-up part is nothing out of the ordinary,” Pugh said. “This information exists, but what we are saying is that we are not going to publish it. But we might have more talks down the road about that.

Methods for limiting the number of students who can occupy a single house have a long and convoluted history in the city.

The current board voted 3-2 in August 2021 to pass the three-student ordinance. It was the second time the council had approved the measure, after Taft-Carter declared it invalid in an initial legal challenge by Narragansett 2100 last year.

Tenants and landlords have sued the city over the measure, saying it wrongfully barred them from speaking out against the ordinance when council first passed it in 2020.

The previous board voted 4 to 1 to implement the three-student limit.

Proponents of the change have complained that single-family home ownership has gone downhill in recent decades. The ordinance will help improve the quality of life and attract more families to the city, they said.

Opposing the ordinance are landlords, property managers and others who have said so-called quality-of-life issues such as arrests, nuisance reports and orange sticker violations have dropped significantly over the past of recent years.

After a high-profile party at a student rental in 2014 spiraled out of control, Narragansett created the University of Rhode Island’s Ad Hoc Committee on Rental Issues, which proposed an “unrelated four” order as part of of its recommendations. The ordinance prohibited more than four unrelated people from living together in one rental unit.

A 2017 Municipal Court ruling ruled the “unrelated four” order unconstitutional.

The city appealed, but slowed the process when a similar case in Providence with an unrelated three-person limit made its way through the courts and eventually to the Rhode Island State Supreme Court.

The court ultimately upheld the Providence order in 2020, and Narragansett then came up with its own “three unrelated occupants” measure.

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