Duluth councilor calls for repeal of 300-foot rental rule
For the past half-year, Pat Shelton lost $800 a month as one of his homes in the Chester Park neighborhood sat empty. The owner of Viking Properties said the economy has been so poor that until recently he had been unable to sell it. And, because...
For the past half-year, Pat Shelton lost $800 a month as one of his homes in the Chester Park neighborhood sat empty. The owner of Viking Properties said the economy has been so poor that until recently he had been unable to sell it. And, because of Duluth's 300-foot-rule, which forbids new rental licenses within 300 feet of an existing one, he had been unable to rent it.
"That the city won't let me generate income off of it is ludicrous," he said. "I don't understand the philosophy. I just don't get it."
Shelton and others have been lobbying the Duluth City Council to get rid of the controversial 300-foot-rule. This month the council will have a chance to do just that, as councilor Todd Fedora is sponsoring an ordinance that would repeal it.
Fedora said he hopes that with a new social host ordinance -- and a proposed "three strikes" nuisance ordinance up for a vote Monday -- the 300-foot-rule won't be necessary. The social host ordinance, passed several months ago, would make hosting a party where minors are served alcohol a finable offense. The nuisance ordinance would penalize landlords for keeping problem renters.
"The 300-foot-rule is impacting people negatively who aren't contributing problems to the neighborhood," Fedora said. "We're hurting people in a tough economic time that can't sell their home and can't achieve any income from their property."
But supporters say the 300-foot-rule still is needed to slow the growth of college rentals in traditional family neighborhoods. Myrna Matheson, a leader of Campus Neighbors, which pushed for passing the rule, said she has seen increased stability.
"It's stayed about the same," she said. "It's about the only hope that neighbors of besieged college houses have."
Asked what she thought of a possible repeal, Sandy Robinson, another leader of Campus Neighbors, said she was speechless.
"You're kidding me," she said. "We were hoping it would at least be in place for another year."
Robinson's exasperation also comes from the twists and turns the rule has taken.
After the 300-foot-rule was created last year and encompassed the entire city, months of controversy and debate followed. Mayor Don Ness enacted a moratorium on evicting people who live in non-complying rentals.
After the moratorium ended, the council voted 6-3 in June to keep the rule in effect only in a "protection zone" that encompasses the two main college campuses and stretches from Sixth Avenue East to 32nd Avenue East.
Homeowners whose license applications were rejected can file an appeal, but only if they can prove the existence of a financial hardship, which is no easy task.
"It is anticipated," according to a memo drafted by the city attorney's office and given to the board of building appeals, "that a property owner will be able to demonstrate the existence of a hardship in only very limited circumstances."
Fedora hopes finding two councilors to switch their June votes won't be as difficult. He may have one in Jeff Anderson. At the beginning of the year, Anderson also brought forward an ordinance that would have repealed the 300-foot-rule, but he voted for the compromise of keeping it in the protection zone.
Anderson said the moratorium still might be a good idea, but with the poor economy slowing the housing market, he's leaning toward supporting Fedora's ordinance.
"I've gotten so many phone calls from people in these helpless situations who can't sell their houses or do anything," he said. "My concern is that it will force people to foreclose on their house or it will force them to rent it out illegally."
That's the case for Pete Mattson, who lives in Minneapolis but bought a Duluth home that has been in his family for several generations and rents it out. When he bought the home he didn't know about the 300-foot-rule, so after his rental license was rejected, he decided to rent the place anyway.
"It was either that or have it foreclosed on," he said.