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Boarding House Request Debated by Zoning Board

Park Avenue property owner wants change from single-family to boarding house status

The evolution of Kent's housing stock from single family homes to multi-family rental properties took center stage at the Kent Board of Zoning Appeals.

Front and center in the revived debate is the house at 335 Park Ave., which is owned by Steve Kubofcik. The Solon resident wants to convert the house from  single family zoning to Kent's boarding house designation — a change that would permit more than two unrelated people to live there.

Kubofcik, who bought the then-vacant house in April 2012 at auction for $50,000, said he bought it with plans to let his daughter live in the house while she attends Kent State University.

He is asking for the rooming house status so he can rent the remaining two bedrooms out to pay for his cost to buy the house and make improvements, including replacing some windows, repairing or replacing doors and decks and adding new siding.

"At the time I purchased it, it was a vacant home in serious disrepair," Kubofcik told the zoning board Monday. "I’ve since put quite a bit of expense into it and brought it from one of the least desirable homes on the street to one of the more desirable homes on the street."

Kent ordinances prohibit houses with more than two unrelated people unless they obtain a boarding house status from the city.

Earlier this month, members of the planning commission and city administration commended Kubofcik for asking for the conversion from a single-family to rooming house status instead of running the house as an illegal boarding house in secret.

After brief discussion, the planning commission voted unanimously to permit the conversion with several conditions, including the zoning board also sign off on the change and the property revert to single-family zoning after Kubofcik sells it.

Zoning board members debated the the issue for nearly two hours Monday night before Kubofcik asked for their vote to be tabled until March, when all five members — zoning board member Diane Werner was absent — may be present to decide.

To permit the boarding house conversion the zoning board would have had to grant two variances regarding the size of the house's lot.

Elizabeth Howard, chair of the zoning board, asked three times if a member of the zoning board wanted to move to grant the variances.

"And every time it went back into further discussion," she said. "That’s unprecedented. It’s never happened quite like that before."

Howard said the issue proved more complex than a simple matter of granting variances to permit a boarding house with a smaller lot size than required by city code.

"This is the kind of request that in many ways is the most difficult for me," Howard said. "I don’t think it’s unreasonable for three unrelated people to live there. Personal feelings aside, I'm here to uphold city code. At the same time, I think it’s also legitimate to consider the work that has been done to an otherwise unsellable house."

In recent years, members of Kent's citizen planning boards and city planning staff have reworked city codes in an effort to restrict such conversions of single-family houses to rental properties while encouraging the maintenance of single-family properties.

Zoning board member Paul Sellman said Kubofcik's property is not the kind of poorly maintained, overcrowded boarding house the city is trying to prevent.

"My heart says this is a minor intrusion into the code," he said. "I know of other people who bought houses for their children to live in while they go to school.

"The thing is, if we give a little here and we give a little here, why do we even have the code?” Sellman said.

Kubofcik said he was unaware Kent's zoning code prohibited more than two unrelated people in a house when he bought the property and said it's an unusual law most communities don't have on the books.

Howard rebuffed his argument and said ignorance of the law is not a strong enough case on its own to permit the conversion.

Kubofcik also argued that limiting him to only two residents, his daughter and one tenant, poses a financial hardship because the property would not earn enough revenue to cover his cost to buy and renovate the house.

He pointed to the fact the house is in a district zoned R-4, which allows multi-family housing, and said he would like to sell it once his daughter graduates from Kent State.

"Virtually every home is a rental or multi-family on the street," Kubofcik said.

In 2011, five houses on Park Avenue were listed as licensed boarding houses with the Kent Health Department. But only two of those licensed houses are located within the same block as Kubofcik's between Gougler Avenue and Mantua Street. The other three are on Park Avenue west of Mantua Street.

Those same five houses also were licensed boarding houses by the health department in 2012. All five of those houses are owned by Kent residents, according to health department records.

Even Kubofcik's daughter, Katie, made the case for the conversion to the zoning board Monday night.

"I would think that Kent would like the fact that the house does look a lot better than it used to," she said. "And for four years, that would be great if I could go and attend Kent" and afterward the house revert to single-family status.

All four members of the zoning board present Monday agreed they like the improvements made to the property.

Zoning board member Dave Mail said he's not sure if Kubofcik's finacial situation poses enough of a financial hardship to warrant the conversion.

"This falls right on the edge of the razor," he said. "I really would like him to have his daughter live there and go to school.

"My feeling is, I think the code is rather restrictive, but it is there for a reason," Mail said. "What is the hardship in this, other than it costs money to have kids go to college?"

Sue January 30, 2013 at 12:11 PM
I live next to an illegal boarding house on a residential street. A man bought the house about 6 years ago so his son could attend KSU, and he never applied for a variance. Because of our experience living next to this house, I oppose the granting of variances to enable noisy students to move into residential neighborhoods. I also wish the city would take action to get rid of illegal boarding houses. The students next to us most recently have been fine, and I will be happy if they stay there. But students who lived in this house in the recent past have held loud parties, have thrown beer cans into our yard, have started huge bonfires in the back yard, have parked illegally much of the time, and have been a noisy nuisance. We have complained, and the city has done nothing. I think we in Kent should stick with the law as it exists and not grant variances that will ruin our residential neighborhoods. Students should live on campus or in the houses that are legally designated boarding houses now. Or they can live in a residence with one other person. We families should not be forced to live next to loud groups of students who wake us up at 3AM screaming and throwing up on the lawn.
Laurel Myers Hurst January 30, 2013 at 12:44 PM
The fact is, student housing has eclipsed the former "family" neighborhoods near KSU and the bus line. From my experience, I believe parent-owned boarding houses are the kind of boarding houses we should encourage in Kent. Rental houses in our neighborhood that were not officially boarding houses were poorly maintained, had high tenant turn-over and invited a lot of rabble to reside in my "family" neighborhood. Since parents bought those houses for their students, the houses have been well-maintained (even renovated), landscaped and QUIET! The difference, parents visit their children and observe the condition of the house inside and out. In this day and age, anyone with money to invest in property (and who has chosen KSU) probably isn't a wealthy absentee parent...it's a hard working, self-controlled, middle class family who wants to see their child succeed and thrive. In their view, proper housing (and responsible stewardship of that property) during the KSU years is the first step. I agree with Mr. Sellman, however, that the ordinance makes it difficult to allow parent-owned boarding houses on a selective/individual basis. Eliminating the appearance of favoritism, maintaining fairness and equal opportunity, applying the law equally to all citizens: these are the challenges of writing and enforcing any ordinance. Housing ordinances are a perfect example. The noisy, vomiting students in my neighborhood are the ones who walk through it, not the ones who live in it.
Sue January 30, 2013 at 01:01 PM
The parents have not bothered to oversee the house next to us, and we have had to suffer from a lot of noise and plenty of tenant turnover. Maybe there are parent-owned houses full of students that are quiet, but that has not been our experience. That is why I oppose letting groups of students rent houses in residential neighborhoods. Parents don't necessarily do anything except collect the rent.
Chris (Kit) Myers January 30, 2013 at 01:04 PM
Sue! To whom, specifically, have you complained? Have you ever called your councilperson and the three at-large councilpersons when this has happened at three in the morning?
Mick Mummy January 30, 2013 at 01:15 PM
I agree. Kent REALLY needs to do something about the illegal boarding houses, and the slumlords allowing their rental properties to go into significant disrepair as well. This is having incredibly negative impact on property value in otherwise fine residential neighborhoods, and lowering the sense of community. So ordinance should be put in place to penalize these propert owners. I also think it's very unfair to the many other home owners in a residential neighborhood to suddenly be confronted with the problem of a bunch noisy students, when they intentionally purchased property away from that. It's great that someone is taking an interest in distressed properties and fixing them up. Good for property values. And I am glad he is following the rules and requesting it... But I don't think it's right to subject the other area residents to potential problems from rental tenants, especially college students, just so this person can turn a profit off his investment. He chose to buy a property for his child to live in, now he has one. He is free to "flip-it" to make a profit now, or resell it after she graduates, etc... It is a wise investment for him, especially now that he's basically been approved to rent it out, so I completely understand why he'd want to do this. It's just not fair to the families that live on that street, unfairly burdening them for this one person's investment income. It's not right.
Teresa K. January 30, 2013 at 02:15 PM
I dont know why anyone called this house unsellable: he bought it. If the price is low enough a house will sell, disrepair is an asset. Rental improvements are deductible on taxes for the ownership of the property. ( doors, windows, decks..) Do we let Mr. Kubofcik slide by ? would this be favoritsm? If someone has enough money to buy a home for their child to live in to attend college.... is there really a financial hardship? no. If Kent allows Mr. Kubofcik to do this, isnt it setting a legal precedent for future people? "you let Mr. Kubofcik do it, so why not me?" The code is the code. I am impressed that Zoning is taking this issue so seriously. Do we bend the rules for one property owner because he has put money into the property to make it livable? No one is going to go check back in five yrs. to see who is living there. Kent has been working so hard with KSU to keep the students all corraled near the university. ; ) The code ensures that for the most part, they stay there. " Kubofcik asked for their vote to be tabled until March, when all five members — zoning board member Diane Werner was absent — may be present to decide." what a considerate and thoughtful man. ; ) Zoning: where do you stand: with Kent residents or People That Dont Even Live Here. How will explain letting Mr. Kubofcik slide and not anyone else???
Patty January 30, 2013 at 03:22 PM
She says so she can live there and attend the next fours years..... If you do not live with your parents you are rquired to live on campus for 2 years. Hmmmm
Sue January 30, 2013 at 03:37 PM
Kit, the only people to whom I have complained at 3AM are the police! I probably should have been more assertive about making complaints back when we had such noisy neighbors. The current tenants have been quiet and have been good neighbors, and I will not complain about them. If another bunch of noisy tenants moves in, I will certainly complain more loudly and widely, as you suggest. The parking officer has long been aware of this illegal rental, and he has given the students numerous parking tickets. I did speak to the owner, and he said that he bought the house with the intention of selling it when his son graduated, but then property values went down, and so he now feels stuck with it until he can get a better price.
Patty January 30, 2013 at 09:52 PM
Please drive down a street with legal boarding houses on it for instance University Dr........ What a trash pit each and every yard is. I can only imagine what the inside looks like.
Chris (Kit) Myers January 31, 2013 at 12:52 AM
Do you want houses in your neighborhood where the lawn may seldom get mown, where there is no shrubbery, and where the yard collects bottles and cans and other debris? Do you want your neighborhood to look like University Drive? I have a roominghouse on South Willow that I have owned since 1977 and I know that to do it right is a very time-consuming job. Is the guy at 335 Park willing to check the place out, at least drive by, a couple times a week? Will he be willing to evict a disaster tenant? It is apparently just a matter of money for a lot of these guys, like the guy who owns 318 East main Street, where two weeks ago I felt compelled to complain to the health department for broken windows, badly peeling paint, and gutter with no downspouts. Interestingly, the City of Kent powers that be are so caught up in making downtown a "destination" that the good folks in the neighborhoods are forgotten. I bought and am moving into a house on East Elm Street. Does my councilperson there give a crap that on the street where she lives there are sidewalks that have four inch steps?" Does the Ward 1 councilperson give a crap that Rockwell Street needs resurfaced? It is nice that the downtown is getting some new vitality but shouldn't the neighborhoods also be considered? Shouldn't there be some balance? Show up at the Planning Commission meeting next week and speak to the issue of roominghouses. I'll be there. Will you?
Mick Mummy January 31, 2013 at 03:07 AM
He bought a house on the cheap, fixed it up, and is welcome to sell it for a profit right now if he likes.I'm not sure how much he invested in repairs, but the monthly mortgage payment on a $50,000 house would be less than half the monthly rental price of the smallest apt in silver meadows... so he and his daughter are also benefting from reduced housing costs.They can also still allow one roommate and charge them rent.The city is certainly happy to see distressed properties being repaired, but they have these rules for a reason. The fact this guy was nice enough to buy a house here and fix it up really should have no bearing on the decision. If they bend for him, they'd have to bend for others, defeating the whole purpose of the rule anyway.
Mick Mummy January 31, 2013 at 03:08 AM
And I'm sorry but its not the responsibility of the city to help this guy pay the mortgage on his investment property, recoup his repair costs, circumvent housing costs for his daughter, and generate rental income to finance her education (she makes it sound as if she will not be able to go to KSU if they dont approve this), especially when he will easily be able to sell it for a profit in 4 years.Tell ya what, sign a promissory note stating you will relinquish the boarding house rights and sell the property within 5 years. And if you dont, the city can have the property free and clear.Better yet, I'll buy it right now to live in for 10% over his sunk costs.  I'm sorry if you cant afford the property and repairs without additiinal rental income, or that you cant afford to send you daughter to college without it. I couldn't either. But thats something you should have looked into before buying it. The city shouldn't bend its rules just to help you pull-off such a lucrative investment plan.
Heidi Shaffer January 31, 2013 at 03:39 AM
Mr. Myers, I do indeed "give a crap" about the 4" drop-offs on the sidewalks. Ask any of the city staff - I have been very persistent in my efforts to improve the sidewalks. Unfortunately, there is not much of an appetite for assessments either on Council or on the Staff. That is what it would take right now, although we are looking for outside funding opportunities. Currently, homeowners would pay 50% of the cost. For upheavals caused by city tree roots, the city pays. The City can't seem to find the money to pay for those (but I haven't given up trying). By the way, welcome to the neighborhood! You picked a great street! And I am not in favor of adding more boarding houses unless there are safeguards. I like that this property would revert to single family housing upon resale. However, parents of students often hold onto houses beyond their students graduation. That's when absentee landlordism becomes a problem. The neighborhoods are very important to me. I live in one!
Chris (Kit) Myers February 01, 2013 at 03:20 AM
Great that you responded, Ms. Shaffer! You do give a crap about sidewalks! I, too, feel that there are responsibilities that a property owner has to the neighborhood, as well as the community as a whole, in which he/she lives or owns rental property. One of them is sidewalk maintenance. If some of the city department heads weren't able to mesmerize council with things such as spending $750,000 to meter downtown parking (a total waste because people will just go feed the meter when their time is up) there would be more for some sidewalk repairs and other things for the neighborhoods that improve the quality of life for citizens. Spending on downtown development is necessary, but when it is done without balance, and at the expense of neighborhoods, a city slowly decays and is unfit in which to live, work, and raise a family. It is happening in Kent. Look around you. And, regarding the current Park Avenue boardinghouse issue, don't let the rest of council be mesmerized by any "revert back to single family" condition to an approval. That is mumbo-jumbo nonsense propounded by government officials and boards and commission menbers who can't look someone in the eye and just say "no"? I am looking forward to moving into the charmin Queen Anne on East Elm Street in March, and spending my final years enjoying flower gardens and hearing the laughter of the many neighborhood children. It is indeed a wonderful street.
Chris (Kit) Myers February 01, 2013 at 12:21 PM
By the way, Ms. Shaffer, the charming house that I rescued at 220 East Elm Street was a vacant rental that was well along in the trashification (you like that word?) process except you couldn't tell how bad it was from the street. Neighborhoods slide into decay... one house at a time. Stop by and see the progress.
Kasha Legeza February 01, 2013 at 08:14 PM
A similar event occurred in 2009 in our neighborhood, where a Cleveland-area dad bought a single-family home for his son and numerous friends to live in while attending Kent State. After being told he was operating an illegal boarding house, the owner tried to get variances to convert the home into a duplex. Neighbors -- who've long been fighting to restore integrity to our mixed-use neighborhood -- rallied to protest the variance requests. Thankfully, the BZA denied them, the students moved out and the owner sold the home to a family. (Here's a link to the meeting minutes: http://www.kentohio.org/boards/2009/BZA-03-16-09.pdf). I agree, Mr. McMinn, that neither the city -- nor neighborhood single-family homeowners -- should have to "assist" people who don't perform due diligence before buying a property. Far too many beautiful old homes (and complete neighborhoods in Kent) are trashed because they were allowed to be converted into student rentals by negligent landlords. City officials should be striving to reverse this problem but, sadly, the appearance of once-charming neighborhoods are clearly not of concern to most of them.
jim February 01, 2013 at 08:54 PM
I would like to point out that someone mentioned that the neighborhood is zoned R-4, which does allow boarding houses also there are some neighborhoods that are zoned exclusively single family. Boarding house living is not just a way for students to save money, but in these hard times (and harder times to come!) not having affordable options will increase homelessness. Single adults who are working and poor, and who do not have the benefit of family to live with, or who are in non-traditional relationships out of necessity or by choice, can stave-off the specter of homelessness by sharing the costs of ownership 3or 4 ways. But if they are not related that can be illegal or a difficult find in Kent. A community the size of Kent can and should be able to differentiate between negligent property owners, and those that do not comply with codes. If the intent of the R-4 code is to eliminate boarding houses by attrition, then that would be gentrification (a social and economic justice issue), something to avoid also; as long as business owners insist on lower wages then something needs to be done to control the cost of living. On the other hand, if the intent is to allow non-student boarding house, or more than 2 unrelated people to own a house, (would still have to get it licensed), then I believe there are codes and ordinances to allow the City to differentiate between owners, without it being considered favoritism!
Kasha Legeza February 01, 2013 at 10:29 PM
Sue -- You shouldn't have to live next to an illegal boarding house for one week, much less six years! I encourage you to draft a neighborhood petition seeking action, get it signed by other single-family homeowners in your neighborhood (including adjacent streets) and then send it to city administrators and council members. Actions such as this have paid off in our neighborhood. After all, one voice is easy to ignore, but the voices of many are not!
jim February 02, 2013 at 04:03 AM
I'd like to correct "and those that do not comply ..." with ".."those that do comply" ..!

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