Are you living illegally?

Kent officials want to rid residential neighborhoods of illegal boarding houses.

An illegal boarding house is a property in which more than two unrelated persons live in a single residential unit in a neighborhood zoned for single-family residences.

Troy Loomis, code enforcement officer for the city of Kent, said one of the hot spots for illegal boarding houses is the Crain to Main area, which includes all of Crain Avenue and parts of Lake Street, North Lincoln Street, University Drive and North Willow Street. Only properties in the area used as boarding houses before the area was zoned residential are “grandfathered in” and permitted to operate in the neighborhood.

Boarding houses are also prohibited in parts of South Lincoln Street, Vine Street, High Street and South Willow Street.

Loomis said enforcement is 99 percent complaint driven. Neighbors often call and complain about noise or parking.

Loomis then investigates the property. He said an overload on parking and excessive garbage on trash day are some indicators that a property is being used as a boarding house. Loomis must get permission or a search warrant to enter the property.

The city does not issue citations, but rather Loomis sends a letter to the property owner, notifying him or her that the property is in violation of the city’s zoning code, and he sets a date by which the property needs to be in compliance with the code. If the property owner does not respond, the matter is taken to court.

Tenants may need time to make arrangements for another place to live or to save up money to move out of the residence. Loomis said he is willing to work with the owner and tenants if they indicate they need more time.

A house on North Willow was named an illegal boarding house in January, and one tenant was forced to move out.

Two tenants allowed another person to move in, the landlord said. This one additional person moved the count of unrelated people from two to three, making it an illegal boarding house. The landlord claimed it was the tenants’ fault.

Renters should be cautious of zoning codes, and just because there are more than two bedrooms does not mean two or more unrelated people can live there.

All boarding houses must pass an inspection and be licensed by the Kent Health Department.

Health Commissioner John Ferlito said his department inspects rental properties for health and safety hazards. He tests the smoke detectors, checks the window screens, heating and water units, and looks for holes in the walls.

If any of the properties are not up to code, he issues a report to the landlord, who has on average 30 days to fix the problems. Once all requirements are met, the department can issue a license.

“We are concerned with safety,” Ferlito said. When rooming and boarding houses are not licensed, it is difficult to police them and make sure they meet safety requirements.

Property owners might convert houses from single-family homes into rooming and boarding houses, but if those boarding houses don’t meet the requirements, they’ll have to take the matter up with the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Loomis said the city isn’t trying to pick on college students or keep them from having a good time.

“We’re just trying to make Kent a nicer place for everyone to live,” Loomis said. “Some people just don’t see it that way.

Contact public affairs reporters Stacy Carmany at [email protected] and Kelsey Henninger at [email protected].