How new rental housing occupancy rules could affect Iowa college students

IOWA CITY, Iowa-- Everyday more than 33,000 students walk to and from class at the University of Iowa. For a few years, Iowa City is a school and a home. But there are city rules regulating who can live where.

"What we do, what most college communities do across the country is regulate by familial status. No more than three unrelated individuals can live in a particular house together," says Iowa City city manager Geoff Fruin.

Let's break this down.

In Iowa City, a family is defined as two or more people related by blood or marriage. A family unit counts as one occupant.

"It's a widely used standard that's based on the relationship you have with the other occupants," explains Fruin.

But if you're not related under the city's definition, legally only three people can live in the same place. There are some older homes that don't apply to the rule.

"Really what we're trying to do is insure those neighborhoods close to campus still remain viable for people that want to rent, but also remain viable for those who want to own," says Fruin.

It's to cut back on noise too.

"When you have a lot of people living in a small area, you tend to get more nuisance complaints," says Fruin.

But starting next year, that rule will have to change.

Earlier this year Iowa legislators passed a law saying a city can't enforce occupancy rules based on the existence of familiar or non-familial relationships between occupants. Cities can no longer define what a family is or isn't.

That new law won't affect homes in Davenport because Davenport's occupancy rules are based on square footage.

Davenport, Iowa is one of the few cities in the state that already bases its code on size, not relationship. This applies to homes near St. Ambrose University as well. Davenport's code says the smallest a room can be for two people in a home is 70 square feet. In short, if you have the adequate space, you can live there.

But larger college towns say size alone isn't enough of a safeguard.

"Those alone can allow for some occupancy levels we don't feel are particularly safe for the neighborhood or occupants," says Fruin.

While nothing will change in Davenport, leaders in Iowa City are going back to square one to try to find a model that works for them.

The law goes into affect January 1, 2018.