Have you ever heard of the three-person rule? As strange as it may seem to most upperclassmen with whom the rule is notorious, some students at the College of William and Mary are unfamiliar with this infamous piece of City of Williamsburg legislation. During the 2009-2010 school year, a series of busts thrust the three-person rule into the spotlight. Since that year, however, the adoption of a lax “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and the four-person exemption have allowed the policy to fade into the background. Now students are finding themselves in the sticky situation of questioning whether they are living in their off-campus houses illegally.
The pervasive relationship between students and City residents centers on a foundation of mutual mistrust. Neither the three-person rule nor the four-person rule has managed to reduce the number of students living in apartments. Instead, the norm is simply to have students hiding illegally in houses and landlords looking the other way. Landlords are able to continue charging high rent to their student tenants because students have been willing to ignore the law and pay the higher prices. As such, students find themselves caught in a self-perpetuating bind where they are being forced to break the law in order to afford off-campus housing.
While there has been a lull in outcries from residents and students over the past few years, the recent silence on this issue does not indicate that it has gone away: It indicates that nothing is being done to solve the underlying problem.
A conversation about expanding the four-person exemption to apply to more properties has reopened the dialogue about the rule. However, expanding this policy will not increase transparency for students, so it will not address the actual problem. While we understand the need for regulation from the City to facilitate the peaceful coexistence of Williamsburg residents and students, we believe students need a new plan that will make the laws more reasonable and understandable.
Danielle Waltrip ’14 proposed a plan that would allow students to live in houses according to the numbers of bedrooms and the amount of parking space to support their cars. This plan requires more effort on behalf of the City in order to determine how many people can live in one house, meaning the plan’s effectiveness depends on how well it is implemented. Nevertheless, we hope it is accepted because it appears to be a common sense answer to a seemingly inescapable problem.
The timing of this discussion could not be more perfect for students at the College. The conversation is beginning at a time when a huge number of students is registered to vote in Williamsburg thanks to the recent presidential election. All students should be informed about this issue and exercise their right to vote should the opportunity arise; regardless of whether they are familiar with it, it affects every student who tries — or is forced — to move off campus. Students should not relegate themselves to a secondary citizen status in the City.
Katherine Chiglinsky recused herself from this editorial in order to remain unbiased in her reporting.