If you’ve ever lived in a college dorm or apartment, you’ve probably had to endure late-night partying, loud noise and general chaos in one form or another. Though this kind of activity is usually expected behavior on campus, it can lead to trouble when students move into residential areas and aggravate local families. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the kind of trouble has been ongoing in the Oak Mills area of Henrietta for nearly ten years.
In an attempt to address the concerns of the frustrated residents in the area, the town of Henrietta recently announced a proposal to define what a “family” is, so that no more than three unrelated people could live together in a single-family home. To voice and alleviate the concerns of RIT students who would potentially be affected by the policy change, OCASA and Student Government hosted an open forum Tuesday, October 25 in the Ingle Auditorium. A panel of those affected by the policy change — including staff, students and residents — was assembled to take questions.
According to Michael Yudelson, supervisor of the Henrietta town council, there is already a law in effect in Henrietta that limits the number of non-related residents in a single family home to three. As Yudelson explained, the town has tried to use that law to confront the landlord of the offending properties. The most common complaints from the community have involved loud noise, large numbers of cars parked on the street and speeding in areas with children. The town’s case was dismissed in local courts on the grounds that the law, as it is currently defined, was unconstitutional. The policy change was then proposed to give the town a way to fight the landlord in court.
The only real change to the policy is that it will provide groups of people who are not necessarily related a chance to prove that they are living in the same fashion as a traditional family. While this change addresses the constitutionality of the law, it remains uncertain what will now constitute a “family” and how the term “related” will be defined under the new policy. According to Yudelson, there is no definitive answer. “The legislation provides a few examples, but they are not meant to be all-inclusive,” Yudelson explained.
Yudelson did stress, however, that the policy would not give the town the power to enter homes and forcibly check how many people are living in a home. Students and renters will not be hunted down as long as the town is not given a reason to investigate. Also, there will be no evictions on those grounds — even if the number of people living in a single-family home is considered illegal, their existing contracts will not be considered invalid.
Dawn Soufleris, RIT’s Assistant Vice President and Director of Student Conduct & Conflict Management Services, stressed that there have been efforts to open up communication between the residents and students living in the community, including RIT-sponsored barbeques and meetings to air grievances. Meredith Smith, RIT’s Director of State and Local Government Relations, said that even a little communication could go a long way, since many residents are too angry to approach the students and the students are often unaware of the issue. Matt Teagarden, a fourth year Business Management student currently living in the Oak Mills development, noted that he had no idea of any of the issues that had been going on for years when he moved in to the area over the Summer.
Carol Malach, is a resident of the development near Oak Mills and a representative of her neighborhood who has worked with the committee that developed the new proposal, Malach acknowledged that there needs to be a way to let the students know that there are families with small children nearby. She says that the amount of late night noise and reckless driving caused by students is unacceptable in the neighborhood.
The panel closed with an invitation from Yudelson for RIT students and faculty to attend the upcoming public hearing prior to the final vote. He reassured the audience that the policy “is designed to target landlords, not students.”
The Henrietta Town Board Meeting will be held November 2 at 7 p.m. in the Rush-Henrietta Senior High School auditorium.