Special to the E-T

When the shuffle starts in a few days for incoming students to find rooms, apartments, or houses, renters will find a new housing regulation in place for Stephenville. In November 2006, the Stephenville City Council, by a unanimous vote, approved a change in R-1 and R-1.5 zoning that will make it illegal for more than three unrelated individuals to live in houses zoned R-1 and R-1.5.

More than two years ago a group of concerned citizens started meeting with the City Planning and Zoning Commission, and eventually the city council, asking that “permitted users” in a Single Family Residential District be related by marriage, blood, adoption, or conservatorship. The council approved this wording, and at the same time reduced the number of unrelated occupants from four to three.

In making their initial presentation to the planning and zoning committee, a member of the citizens’ group presented facts and figures compiled in a survey over a period of two months. In the survey were 82 houses in the areas along FM 8 (Lingleville Highway) and Harbin Drive. This area was selected because of the preponderance of houses rented by four or more students. This does not preclude the fact that a number of houses just north and west of Tarleton State University (TSU) campus are also rented by multiple students and present the same problems the citizens’ group presented.

Of the 82 houses surveyed, 35 are homesteads and 47 are rent houses. This means, in essence, that every other house in the mile-and-a-half stretch is a rent house. Why rent houses? Because many of them were bought at bargain prices and renting to multiple individuals can result in a healthy return on the investment.

Why do students like this lifestyle? No supervision, no personal responsibility, beer parties, underage drinking, littered and unmowed yards, and no regard for parking. Of the 47 rent houses, 22 of the owners do not live in Stephenville and have no personal concern for the appearance and upkeep of the property, as long as the rental checks come in.

Another speaker at the hearing stated that an important factor for him, in deciding to move to Stephenville 42 years ago, was the appearance of the residential areas. He stated that even the older, less expensive parts of town were well kept, neat and gave evidence that the people of Stephenville had a lot of pride. He said, however, that in recent years more and more students are renting houses in R-1 areas and inviting four or more students to move in and split the rent. Some out-of-town parents are buying houses and renting space to multiple students to help make payments on the house. Both of these practices result in an additional four to six vehicles parked in the street, driveways, or yard with traffic at all hours of the day and night. These arrangements are totally unacceptable and illegal in R-1 districts. People living in these neighborhoods have the right and responsibility to notify city hall at 918-1215 when they feel their rights are being violated and laws are being broken. There will be no retaliation. You don’t have to provide your name, phone number, or address.

In commenting on the procedure for handling complaints, Betty Chew, Stephenville’s Director of Community Development, said a letter is written to the property owner explaining the nature of the complaint and requesting a meeting with the property owner to discuss the problem. Ordinarily, Chew said, the problem can be resolved.

In the event, however, the problem continues, the city has the option of issuing a citation to the property owner. This is a misdemeanor and can result in a fine of not more than $2,000, with each day representing a new citation.

A spokesman for the citizens’ group also pointed out that four or more vehicles consistently parked at an R-1 residence is a good indication that too many people are residing in the house. He noted that to file a complaint a person should call Code Enforcement at 918-1215 and not the police department.