Cobb residential ordinance limiting occupancy in homes becoming hard to live with
by Nikki Wiley
October 25, 2013 12:14 AM | 8510 views | 10 10 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MARIETTA — A 2007 county ordinance may not have been intended as a tool to allow local government to tell people who they can and can’t live with, but that’s exactly what it’s become.

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.

Unforeseen impact

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.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Matt Smith
October 28, 2013
This is a racist ordinance that was actually intended to give law enforcement a tool to use against immigrants in the county. MDJ is glossing over the truth and helping the Board of Commissioners frame this in a favorable light. They're only reviewing the ordinance because it has had some unintended consequences for white, traditional families.

The BOC should not be able to infringe on the property rights of Cobb citizens in this way. If a homeowner chooses to rent to students or immigrants, that's their right.
October 26, 2013
I live in an older neighborhood off of Shiloh Rd in North Cobb without a HOA. Self appointed "neighborhood volunteers" are using "code violations" to enforce their will on other neighbors. It hasn't impacted me personally but it's terrible how folks use these regulations to bully others. We seem to have code enforcement driving around once every couple of weeks.
October 25, 2013
If cars and neighborhood quality are the real issues, then create ordinances that deal with those things direly.

While it is no ones right to limit the number of cars someone owns, there can be an ordnance in place to limit the number of cars parked on the street in front of the house. Whether anyone know or not, such an ordinance already exist.

If you are worried about neighborhood quality due to it becoming a party street or whatever then file a noise complaint. They get fined after a few warnings and guess what those college kids cant afford those fines. so they would straighten up really quick or be in big money troubles.

Creating an ordnance that pretty much implies that the only quality type of people that can live in a neighborhood are families with a mom, dad, and kids is ridiculous. Or that all large groups of unrelated people living together are not ok? How about my grandparents living with my mom and her boyfriend to take care of them due to them being in their mid 90s. So under this ordnance would they demand my mother move out a parent or her boyfriend? Or my best friend who recently moved in a elderly family friend of no relation because she is like family.

Shameful people would be like that.
October 25, 2013
I would have been in violation of the law/code shortly after Hurricane Katrina when I hosted several unrelated strangers who were refugees from New Orleans for 3-4 months. Of course the New Testament trumps any Cobb County Commission rulings. Also I have time, money, and am willing to pay attorney fees to have a court determine that this is an unconstitutional infringement of my liberty and pursuit of happiness.
Las leyes
October 25, 2013
Las leyes son para los mexicanos a seguir, no para las niñas blancas preciosas!
cars r the problem
October 25, 2013
Once again cars are the real problem.

Why not limit the number of unrelated car registrants per household instead of people per household?

Will Ed Voyles and friends not allow Cobb County to restrict the number of car registration holders per household? Is that a dangerous precedent that might inadvertently open some eyes to how much of a burden cars are?

Too bad we didn't have the vision of Arlington, VA, 50 years ago. This place could have been great, but now it's too late.

The cars, they have a choke hold on us. And a fracture hold. And an internal injury hold. And an amputation hold. And a financial hold. We can barely even walk a block because of them, yet we love them?
Be Very Careful
October 25, 2013
If this is revised, it should be done very carefully and purposefully. It would be a huge shame to be revised in such a way that it destroys neighborhoods around our county's colleges and universities and turns them into student housing projects with huge parties and parking up and down residential streets and in yards. This will happen in a blink of an eye if revised carelessly. Please involve these neighborhoods in any type of revision process. We (I live in one of these neighborhoods) have invested many years of our lives in the betterment of our neighborhoods, county, and community and do not want this to turn over to a very transient, rental population full of "investment" problems. Look at the city of Marietta - they recognized an issue and are seemingly now trying to change their ratio of homeownership to decrease rentals. Please do not let the county fall into this trap.
Bluto Blutarsky
November 18, 2013
So have them make an ordinance regarding college students if that is your issue and stop using Cobb's anti Hispanic law.
Freedom in America
October 25, 2013
I disagree with Commissioner Ott when he says every time the ordinance has been applied it has been applied appropriately. The fact is that this Ordinance is being applied every time a Cobb County Code Enforcement issues a “Notice of Violation” for this Code and gives a person 10 days to fix a situation or face fines and imprisonment!

A lady having to defend the fact that she allow her brother to live with her and her roommate is not appropriate. I doubt it is constitutional and should be reviewed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

17 Year Resident
November 03, 2013
This is primarily aimed at screwing working class folks, and pretty much anyone in Cobb who believes that the most important right we have is the right to be left alone.

If you have folks living peacefully, then leave them alone and mind your own business. I happen to be a member of the upper middle class here in Cobb. But I remember a time in my 20's when I was as poor as the next college grad with debt, and had three "unrelated persons" at my residence who shared in all the utility costs and living expenses.

Those five years of shared expenses helped me save about $15,000 in living expenses and garnered about $20,000 in savings. My home is paid off and guess what? Nobody got hurt!

The paper that these ordinances are written should be taken out back and burned into cinders. It represents the absolute worst in public stewardship and intentionally preys on those folks who are simply trying to get established.

You want bright young people to live in Cobb? Ridding this local ordinance would be a minimal step.

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