Heather Chometa is a resident, business owner and landlord of Quinnipiac student housing in Hamden.
Chometa and her husband began renting houses to students in 1999 when there were no regulations. Then a few years later, Hamden required the renters to have a permit to be able to rent out to students.
The permits are currently $300 to $500, and the town is now proposing to raise the fees to $1,000. The landlords must renew their permits every year, which costs $150 every time. The town is now proposing to raise them to $300. The inspection fees, which are common in many towns, are $75 that goes to Quinnipiack Valley Health District and an additional $300 to the Hamden Planning and Zoning Commission but the inspection services remain the same.
When Chometa heard that the student housing regulation fees were going to be raised, she reached out to other property owners who rent to students.
One of Chometa’s letters ended up on Bob DeCosmo’s desk. Bob DeCosmo is the president of the Connecticut Property Owners Alliance (CTPOA). This alliance, according to its website, is “an organization of experienced property managers, realtors and landlords working together to improve the business conditions for rental property owners.”
What DeCosmo found was the initial permit fee and renewal fees could be illegal taxes.
“We complied [to paying the fees] because we thought it was a legal policy and that the town of Hamden had the right to do this,” Chometa said. “After Bob received my letter he has actually informed us that this is an illegal policy.”
Under the Connecticut Fair Housing Laws, the state does not allow cities to create their own local taxes without providing any service in return to the property owner.
“We’re looking at this as if it’s a tax, without the city having the authority to create their own taxes. Therefore it’s illegal,” said DeCosmo.
Leslie Creane, the Town Planner of the Planning and Zoning Commission of Hamden isn’t worried about the CTPOA.
“We have had the same policies in place for, probably when we first instituted student housing regulations, 13 to 14 years. They have not been challenged, we have no reason to believe that they are not legal.”
DeCosmo isn’t surprised that the policy is still in effect since no one has challenged them before.
“Until someone steps up and pushes back, they can do anything.”
DeCosmo says if the prices go up, students will end up having to pay higher rent since landowners are paying more to rent them out.
CTPOA believes Hamden is not allowed to charge the fee to begin with and hopes to remove the policies altogether.
“We’ve been in contact with attorneys who believe this is a civil rights matter,” DeCosmo said. “To me, it looks like they’re trying to regulate behavior and the property owner is in between it.”
The town supplies a packet for all landowners looking to rent to students. DeCosmo found a couple of things in this packet to be “very disturbing.”
Within the packet is a sheet that includes the property address, the name of the students, their phone numbers and email addresses. It is sent to neighbors without the students’ consent, and if the landlords do not hand in this sheet, the city can deny the renting permit to the landlords.
“Would the town employees or the people in the neighborhood who don’t want students living there, would they feel comfortable giving their 20-year-old daughter’s phone number, address and name to just a stranger?” Chometa said. “And if something happens to a student like a rape or a murder because some person who shouldn’t have this information does have it, who’s responsible for that? It’s a dangerous situation.”
Chometa believes this process should be eliminated and that people should meet their neighbors like anyone else would when someone new moves in which consists of walking over, introducing themselves and exchanging phone numbers if they want to.
The only other group of people who landlords have to register is sex offenders.
“Students shouldn’t be categorized with this group of people,” Chometa said.
DeCosmo finds the policy to be “arbitrary” and “capricious” since landlords across the board who aren’t renting to students don’t have to deal with these permits.
The landlords are able to rent to any other person 18 and over without a permit.
“They make us jump through all these hoops to rent to students as if students are common criminals and people need to be warned that they’re in the neighborhood…it’s really not a fair policy,” Chometa said.
Another difference when renting to students is the parking policies. Students must park in the back of their driveway but anyone else can park on their own lawn.
“We can’t create a policy that’s discriminatory,” DeCosmo said.
Chometa doesn’t live next to students but she does have Quinnipiac men’s lacrosse players living directly above her store.
“They are the most polite, courteous, respectful boys I have ever encountered,” she said. “They are very helpful, they take our garbage out, they offer to shovel the sidewalk, they are always looking to help.”
Chometa has two boys of her own and says the lacrosse players are great role models for her boys. “I dont have any neighbors complaining about the students to me.”
Chometa is aware of problematic renters but thinks Hamden is lucky.
“In my opinion, you can have much worse neighbors. These kids are not robbing your house, they’re not stealing your cars or murdering and raping your children,” she said. “So they’re a little loud and noisy sometimes. But they aren’t even here the entire year.”
Some Hamden residents are concerned with the behavior of students who live off-campus, especially after 22 students were charged for throwing off-campus parties last academic year.
At the last Planning and Zoning meeting, Creane proposed the idea of Public Safety patrolling off campus housing even though these houses aren’t under the school’s jurisdiction.
Chometa doesn’t think Public Safety should be interacting with her tenants.
“I don’t think the school’s security department has any business at all on my property telling my tenants what they can and cannot do,” she said. “My tenants pay for their rent, they have the right to live in that house, and if they’re doing something illegal, the Hamden Police department should deal with it.”
Creane is aware of issues amongst the town and the commission is working on improving them.
“I know there are issues with student housing in the town, there have been issues for years,” she said. “We are trying to come up with the most productive and certainly legal and beneficial way of dealing with students living in neighborhoods.”
QUinnipiac is doing their part to create better relations with Hamden as well. SGA has incorporated the Good Neighbor Campaign which began in 2013.
Carly Hviding, the Vice President for Public Relations hopes to foster healthy relationships with open communication between the town and the university.
“As adults in the community, it is important for students to understand how to be good neighbors and to respect the town we live in,” she said.
Regardless of the policy changes, DeCosmo doesn’t think raising the fees higher will fix the underlying problem.
“You’re not going to solve this by raising fees and making people do paperwork,” he said. “You’re gonna solve this by literally going after those targeted problems, that are probably isolated and dealing with them with the laws that apply to everybody.”
Chometa doesn’t understand why more residents don’t embrace Quinnipiac Students. “Students are spending money in our local businesses, they are working in many of the establishments, they do their internships here and many of them, after they graduate, get jobs in Connecticut and make Hamden their home and community.”