Something is rotten in the city of Williamsburg. Last week, residents in nine houses across town opened their mailboxes to find letters from the city accusing them of being in violation of the three-person rule. Now, these students have about one month to prepare for a city inspection, since not being up to code at the time of inspection will result in fines that amount to a de facto eviction. This effort marks a serious escalation in enforcement of the housing ordinance, and it will have many repercussions for town-gown relations in the coming months and years.
Where do we go from here? While there is talk of using Student Assembly funds to take the city to court over this issue if need be, now the best bet is for those who are currently in violation of the housing ordinance to find alternative housing and avoid lawsuits. Even though the three-person rule is clearly a bad law that should be changed, it is still a law that is well within the city’s power to enforce. The unlucky people who have been caught should cut their losses.
However, with exams impending, December is a bad time for an apartment hunt. Students are able to apply for an inspection extension, and the city will consider cases on individual bases — something students should request if needed. But the real importance of the timing of these notices is not that it shows the city to be acting spitefully; rather, it is no coincidence that students received the letters soon after the College of William and Mary’s student directory was distributed.
The directory has to go, or at least be restructured, again. City Zoning Administrator Rodney Rhodes receives housing complaints all the time, but he is unable to act on them until he finds corroborating hard evidence. Parking decals or lease information will do, and a directory that lists student addresses and is widely available on campus makes his job very easy. Last year, when a similar situation happened to the residents of a house on Richmond Road, the College made a change to allow students to opt out of the directory. This has not been sufficient.
In the past, a major sticking point for vocal locals who oppose altering the three-person rule has been that the law is basically unenforceable. However, last week has shown this argument to be invalid. The Williamsburg Planning Commission should readdress this issue at its next meeting, starting from square one and with an open mind. If it fails to do so, the burden will fall, again, to the Williamsburg City Council to act on this issue.
We do not have much faith that this will happen, and so we simply need to elect new representation. Students have paid out of pocket and worried for too long to continue striving to satisfy the whims of a capricious and spiteful minority voting bloc. Residents who force this issue do have legitimate concerns, but the three-person rule has never been a good way to address them. The only path to a middle ground is to have someone with our interests present at the table. If it takes this action from the city to galvanize students into voting en masse, then so be it.