Mary Mascher

Mary Mascher

Some cities in Iowa have ordinances that limit the number of non-relatives who may live together in a single rental property, but those ordinances would be prohibited under legislation that has cleared the Iowa House. Representative Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City, said Iowa City has that kind of ordinance because it’s best for the community.

“In terms of public safety, in terms of what our sewer can actually accommodate and what it can handle,” Mascher said. “…If you live in a community where there are many, many rental units, it is very difficult when you have multiple residents in these that are not related.”

Representative Chip Baltimore, a Republican from Boone, contends these types of ordinances that limit the number of non-relatives who may live together violate Iowa’s Civil Rights Code.

“I’ve never known the quantity of sewage to come from unrelated people to be more than coming from related people,” Baltimore said. “And if that’s the problem in Iowa City, then I think we’ve got bigger problems than this.”

Chip Baltimore

Chip Baltimore

Baltimore said cities can pass other ordinances to deal with “behavior-related” problems like too many parked cars, excessive garbage and loud parties in rental properties. Representative Marti Anderson, a Democrat from Des Moines, said she’s concerned ordinances that restrict the number of non-relatives who may live together penalize people like students, senior citizens and young professionals who can’t afford to live alone.

“I would suggest that cities can still limit the number of people that should be in a rental home by limiting the number of adults who can live there,” Anderson said.

Representative Vicki Lensing, a Democrat from Iowa City who opposed the bill, said “local control” should prevail.

“It sometimes can be very challenging with the number of people living in homes in terms of parking, in terms of behavior, in terms of maintenance and infrastructure,” Lensing said, “so Iowa City has chosen to be proactive to work on this issue through ordinances for our community.”

In 2007, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the ordinance in Ames which forbids more than three un-related people from living in homes in parts of Ames designated as “residential low density” zones for “primarily single-family dwellings.” In its ruling, the justices wrote that the Ames ordinance was not a violation of the Constitution and was “a reasonable attempt to address concerns by citizens who fear living next door to the hubbub of an ‘Animal House’.”