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roommatesWinona State University in Minnesota plans to purchase off-campus rental properties and turn them into group housing for its residents.

Trouble is, the city has passed a number of anti-student renter measures that affect local landlords, including a low-density provision where only three unrelated people can live in a rental, as well as a limitation on the number of rentals in any one neighborhood.

The university is asking city council to make an exception for them.

The plan, according to a local news report, is to provide “theme” houses, a popular trend in student housing, where a dozen or more unrelated individuals live together under the same roof.  The university feels this is necessary to compete for a dwindling number of college applicants.

Themes can include anything from demographics to ideology.  For instance, Northwestern College in Iowa has adopted theme housing which includes Spanish speaking only, weekend wilderness adventures, and Bible studies.  Virginia Tech offers drug-free and honors theme houses.

While it’s not known how local residents feel about the school’s plans to fund high density off-campus houses in their neighborhoods, the reviews from students on theme housing appears mixed.  One student blogged that her clean-lifestyle themed housing saved her life because she came from a small town and was not equipped to deal with the pressures of the large university setting at Virginia Tech without mentors.  Stanford students, on the other hand, have rated “Language, Culture, and Theme Houses” as the worst places to live.

But local residents have complained in the past about noise, increased pedestrian traffic, and the lack of on-street parking that seems to accompany off-campus student rentals. In fact, that’s why the city’s density rules, parking restrictions, and limitations on rentals in neighborhoods were instituted in the first place. The college is asking the city council to change these rules for WSC-owned or leased properties to accommodate about 11-13 residents per property, and the city appears prepared to entertain the idea, in part because the university is promising that it’s housing standards are higher than those of private landlords.

For instance, the university restricts the use of drugs or alcohol in on-campus housing.  A WSC residents blog, which shows a history of this year’s end-of-school activities offered at on-campus residence halls, describes typical student activities.  This year, several outdoor parties were organized, featuring inflatables, a Jello slip ‘n’ slide, and a “throw a drink at your RA” event.

Landlords who gathered to hear more about the university’s plans expressed skepticism that the school would make a better landlord.  They were particularly concerned about parking problems generated from such high density housing that could impact their own tenants.  Officials suggested that the local economy–which includes about 900 registered rental property owners, depends on the college’s success.

Landlords trying to adapt to the new competition asked if they can do their own theme housing, but city officials were quick to point out that the university would have to approve any such residences.

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  • brassservices

    This is not only unfair, it is arbitrary and capricious enforcement against the interests of others who are in the rental market. This is illegal by definition from the get-go. Seems like a pile of negligence is being brought to the doorstep of the city taxpayer who will shoulder the burden of the lawsuits to follow. Need to take those costs out of a few people in city hall’s pay.

  • GARY

    The more I read about Minnesota, the more grateful I am that I don’t live in that part of the country.

  • Anthony

    Unfortunately anti-student laws have been in place for quite some time now. At the University of Minnesota Twin Cities I was apart of a student organization that fought to end discriminatory laws that for instance allowed 5 members in a family to occupy a home while only allowing 3 “unrelated invidviduals” (students). The type of housing they are trying to employ does haver mixed success rates but it is not discriminatory…this is the essence of a fraternal organization such as one for engineers or doctors.

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