Provo zoning infractions now a misdemeanor

City Council members listen to the concerns of a landlord regarding the new zoning ordinance. This ordinance will require additional documentation for landlords and tenants and makes noncompliance a misdemeanor. (Savannah Hopkinson)

The Provo City Council passed a new zoning enforcement law changing the punishment for zoning infractions from a fine to a misdemeanor.

This will impact singles living with more than three unrelated people in areas zoned for family, which is common in south Provo. These singles will be forced to relocate to avoid criminal charges.  

The punishment for knowingly breaking a zoning law can now be a class-C misdemeanor for the first offense, and a class-B misdemeanor for the second. This means on the first offense, a person could be charged with up to 90 days in jail and a $750 fine, and on the second, up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The Provo City Council passed this zoning enforcement law on Nov. 14 with a 5-2 vote after months of discussions in town hall meetings, open houses and City Council meetings.

“The purpose of this ordinance is to create a tool that helps code enforcement officers in the city with the objective of enforcing the occupancy limits that are already currently in city code,” said Brian Jones, a Provo City Council attorney.

The new zoning ordinance will also require landlords to have a signed document with each adult tenant acknowledging that everyone is aware of who is living in the rental dwelling. Landlords must also provide to tenants a copy of their rental dwelling license approval letter showing the zoning and parking restrictions for the property and a copy of a document created by the city stating a tenant’s rights and responsibilities, Jones said.

Since many BYU students are tenants in Provo, the law will require some students to have additional paperwork from their landlords acknowledging who lives in the dwelling. The acknowledgment can be added to a rental contract, but the letter and list of rights and responsibilities will be added to the papers exchanged in a rental agreement.

Peter Christensen from the realtor’s association in Utah County talks to the Provo City Council about why he supports the proposed law, but asks for more time before implementation. The council passed the zoning enforcement law without extending the enforcement date. (Savannah Hopkinson)

Since BYU-contracted housing areas are not zoned for family housing, there shouldn’t be many complaints according to the motion, the city will only ask for the documents and investigate if they have a complaint about zoning laws being violated.

Adam Arnett, a single professional who opposes the ordinance, said the council was likely to vote in favor of the law from his individual discussions with the City Council. However, there were two points City Council members and residents discussed changing. The first point was the time in which the enforcement was to take place.

Peter Christensen, from the Utah Valley Realtor’s Association, said he wanted to request the council change the Dec. 1 start date of the law, or put off the enforcement to give time to approach people and help educate them before the law is enforced.

Councilmen Dave Harding and Dave Sewell, who both voted against the ordinance, said they would feel better supporting the ordinance if it gave landlords and tenants until the contract’s renewal before actual enforcement, or if the enforcement date was changed to March 1, 2018.

However, this additional time was not granted.

“Yes, we want to be fair, we want to be compassionate, but when we delay this, we send a message that we’re not being serious about enforcing. Then we’re not being compassionate to those who have suffered probably the most — those who have been obeying the law,” said Councilwoman Kim Santiago.

Single tenants also expressed concerns that the enforcement will be discriminatory to their demographic, and that their voices were not listened to early enough in the process.

“The problem is not this ordinance, the problem is the supply (of singles’ housing) that we’ve got in our city and what we can do to make adjustments to that,” said Councilman Gary Winterton.

Tatiana Quinn is a young single professional in Provo who has been actively talking to the City Council about her concerns with this ordinance. She said she has been working on a proposal to address the current zoning issues this new ordinance will be enforcing.

The Provo City Council listens to concerns presented about the proposed zoning enforcement ordinance. The council passed the ordinance with a 5-2 vote. (Savannah Hopkinson)

“January 1st does not give me and the other people in that boat the opportunity to address this issue, the underlying issue of the actual occupancy rule in the area. I feel like that needs to be addressed first and foremost before we talk about stronger enforcement tools,” Quinn said.

Carrie Walls, the zoning administrator for Provo, talked about her plan to inform people of the new ordinance so that enforcement on Jan. 1 will be a possibility and reiterated that the law will be enforced on a complaint basis only.

The zoning division of Provo Community Development sent letters to all property managers announcing open houses on Nov. 29 and Dec. 4 from 5:30 to 7:30 in the community development office, and are creating a letter to go on the mayor’s blog and the Community Development webpage.

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