When homeowners near TCU fought for an overlay in their district to restrict property owners from housing more than three unrelated tenants under the same roof, the homeowners didn’t know they would have to enforce the rules themselves.
Michael Banta, former president of the Bluebonnet Place Neighborhood Association, said that to make a formal complaint with the City of Fort Worth’s code compliance for too many tenants, the homeowner must document license plates and the number of people coming to and going from the residence in question for 30 days.
Banta was part of the mediation group that worked out the details of the overlay last November. He said he doesn’t recall once discussing the 30-day complaint procedure. To some degree, he said he understands the need to investigate a situation to be sure, but he doesn’t understand why it falls on the shoulders of homeowners.
“The city has perhaps no other procedure for doing it,” he said. “I understand the need, because what if you are having family over for a week or someone’s kids are having a slumber party over the weekend? But why isn’t code enforcement doing this? It’s too burdensome on [us homeowners]. It’s too much for the average person to sit by their kitchen window for 30 days.”
A city representative did not return calls for comment.
With TCU’s enrollment increasing from about 8,000 to roughly 10,000 since 2009 and with only 4,050 beds on campus, more students are moving into the neighborhoods surrounding the university. Genna Banta, Michael’s wife and a real estate investor, said the increase in student population is what turned places like Frisco Heights from quiet cottage neighborhoods into a mixture of families and students. Often, entire houses full of students.
Developers, Genna said, “are developing multifamily houses in place of small cottages under the guise of ‘urban village development.’ ”
From entirely privately-owned, Banta said, several TCU-area neighborhoods have become 90 percent developer-owned over the past several years.
“Now you have streets that are tenant occupied for whole blocks, properties owned by the same people,” Banta said. “They’re not going to complain on each other.”
Another problem Banta sees is that the students aren’t going to complain on one another.
“Some of these streets are 100 percent students,” he said. “Who is going to police that? They aren’t going to and probably don’t know they are breaking code enforcement rules. But somehow this is not up to code enforcement anymore.”
There is a built-in problem, Banta said, in the fact that some streets like Sandage Avenue are full of large six-bedroom houses that are way too big for the average family of four.
Property owners and landlords are “willing to do deals in violation of the overlay,” he said. “The police haven’t enforced anything. TCU isn’t getting involved, and code enforcement isn’t enforcing. My gut feeling is the people who aren’t going to play fairly are going to win because they are winning right now and nobody is enforcing it.”
A source who chose to remain anonymous said he recently called a property owner on Sandage to discuss moving six people into one of the owner’s properties.
“She says it has five bedrooms and a bonus room,” the source said. “I said I had a daughter and five of her friends that wanted to live together. I asked her to tell me about this overlay. I thought six people couldn’t live together. She said, ‘We can work around that, no problem.’ ”
The source said he could only speculate about how the rules are broken. His guess is that only three people sign the lease but the rent is split evenly among all of the occupants. Subleases or additional leases could also be involved, he said.
Craig Allen, director of housing and residence life at TCU, said that though enrollment jumped starting in 2009, it has leveled out over the last three to four years, with freshman classes settling at around 1,800. Still, he said, students who live off-campus don’t want to face long commutes every day.
“Students want to be near campus and be a part of campus life,” Allen said. “If they can live immediately around the campus, I think they will continue to do that.”
Banta said this creates a problem with parking in most neighborhoods and late-night noise issues in some.
“I’ve had to call a towing company twice because of people parking in my driveway,” Banta said. “I called the Fort Worth police initially, and they said since it was a private property tow, they couldn’t do anything about it.”
Allen said TCU is adding more on-campus beds and encouraging more juniors and seniors to not move away, but there are no plans for a policy change to force all undergraduates to live on campus.
“We expect there are many juniors and seniors that will choose to live on campus as we build that housing, but we don’t have a policy change planned,” he said. “We have huge wait lists for students that want to live on campus.”
Other people have complained about parties going on late into the night and beer cans and other trash being strewn through yards on the street, Banta said.
“I’ve had friends and neighbors tell me stories, and I feel for them,” he said. “I can’t imagine coming home from a day at work and having to listen to partying next door while you are trying to eat dinner or go to bed at a reasonable hour. Or leaving for work and seeing trash everywhere from the night before and then being told to document them for 30 days, and we will come take a look.”
The only way to begin to fix the problem, Michael Banta said, is for the city to enforce the overlay.
“The city should hire a code enforcement officer to monitor overlay areas,” Banta said. “That’s what it’s going to take.”