Now, some Cobb commissioners say it’s high time to go back and revise the law.
The ordinance limits occupants of a single-family home to two unrelated adults or a single family.
That means a homeowner could not have a live-in nanny or caregiver. An empty-nester retired couple living in a large house could not rent a room to a single person.
A married couple allowing a friend who has fallen on hard times to move in could be cited by code enforcement if someone complains.
The ordinance was hatched out of conversation during public comments at county commission meetings, said former Cobb Chairman Sam Olens, who is now state attorney general.
Some residents complained about illegal immigrants living in close quarters, but Olens said the majority of the complaints centered on rental homes with college student tenants.
The ordinance, which elected officials say was intended to protect single-family neighborhoods, has paved the way for neighbors to prompt a visit from their local code enforcement officer.
Special permit is pricey
Residents can apply for a special land-use permit from the county to have more unrelated adults in a home than the code allows but they would have to pay $1,300 in fees and make their case before two commissions.
Commissioner Bob Ott, who represents southeast Cobb, says the impact on families wasn’t intended.
“For example if a husband and wife needed an au pair, they couldn’t do it,” Ott said. “Or if an elderly couple needed
an in-home caregiver, that’s against the code also.”
It’s something Ott is looking to change. He has directed county staff in charge of the housing ordinance to take another look at it and see how it might be tweaked to be less restrictive for families and retired couples.
Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, who represents northeast Cobb, has also asked staff to take a second glance. She agrees that clarification is needed.
Neither commissioner has presented an amendment to the ordinance, and if an amendment were brought up, a majority of the commission would have to vote to adopt it.
Weighing rights against wants
The portion of the ordinance that forces a choice between unrelated occupants and a family was added by the commission in February 2012. Commissioners unanimously voted at the time to take out a line of the ordinance that allowed up to two unrelated individuals to live with a family.
All current commissioners were also on the board in February 2012, except for southwest Cobb Commissioner Lisa Cupid. Her post was occupied by former Commissioner Woody Thompson.
The original ordinance was adopted unanimously in July 2007. Commissioner Helen Goreham of northwest Cobb and Chairman Tim Lee were on the board at that time.
It’s about balancing the personal property rights of Cobb’s residents and the need to protect neighborhoods, said Michael Opitz, east Cobb resident and president of the Madison Forum.
“You have to be able to craft legislation carefully so you don’t infringe upon people’s property rights and rights of free association, but it’s important not to help those who come into our country illegally,” Opitz said.
Private property rights are “very, very important,” Opitz said, and should be weighed heavily if the ordinance is amended again.
It’s a “worthy ordinance,” said Goreham, northwest Cobb commissioner.
“I totally agree that it needs to be revisited, to allow a nanny or caregiver, and making sure that the ordinance isn’t weakened to the extent that it would be detrimental to single-family neighborhoods,” Goreham said.
Lisa Cupid, who represents southwest Cobb, said it’s possible that more than two unrelated adults could live in a home and still be a good neighbor. Unrelated friends could decide to purchase a home, Cupid said, and share mortgage payments.
“The comment was made that this is single-family (housing) therefore it should be a single family,” Cupid said. “Well, we only classify housing as single family or multi family. What if they’re not a family? Do they not have anywhere to live?”
Bonnie Fuller is a student at Life University studying chiropractic, and has lived with her roommate for two years in their rental home with three bedrooms and an additional finished basement.
Fuller’s brother graduated from college in August and moved into the home near Lower Roswell and South Marietta Parkway in east Cobb.
When a neighbor complained to code enforcement about the living arrangement, the residents were told they had to change something. They were suddenly in violation of the ordinance that doesn’t allow a family to live with unrelated persons.
Fuller says she understands the desire to limit occupants subject to the size of the home, but she wants to see the county commission change the ordinance to make it less restrictive for unrelated residents.
“In a country like America where we’re supposed to be a country of all walks of life … who are we to decide what a family is?”
Fuller believes the ordinance sends the message that some unrelated residents are troublesome and, therefore, all are troublesome.
“It’s like somebody doesn’t want to hear barking dogs so they say no dogs at all … not all people that live together are nuisances, so why would you get rid of all of them?” Fuller said.
Protecting a lifestyle
The housing ordinance made its way before the commission earlier this month when a landlord in Acworth requested a special land-use permit to rent a three-bedroom home to five Kennesaw State University students, two of whom were sisters.
Neighbors called the county’s code enforcement division to complain that too many cars were parked in the driveway of the house and spilled into the streets.
Commissioners ruled the tenants had to move out by the end of the year.
That aspect of the ordinance isn’t something Ott is looking to change, and he says in that situation it protected what it was intended to protect.
“Every time the ordinance has been applied, it has been applied appropriately,” Ott said.
Fuller doesn’t take issue with limiting residents based on the size of a home.
“I think they could solve a lot of their problems if they took out the whole related and unrelated thing and say what is the capacity of the home?” Fuller said.
The whole intent, Ott said, is to defend the single-family home.
“The intent of the ordinance, I think, was to basically protect single-family neighborhoods from multiple people and multiple cars from just kind of living in the house,” Ott said.