A Whaley Street house in a neighborhood heavily occupied by University of South Carolina students cannot continue to be rented to more than three unrelated students as it has been illegally for years.
Columbia zoning laws prohibit more than three unrelated adults from living together in a single-family home, a rule that can be difficult to enforce and one that Kurt Rayburg said he was unaware of when he purchased the house at 816 Whaley St. in January.
The city Board of Zoning Appeals on Tuesday denied Rayburg’s request to grant the house special exception as a rooming house, which would have allowed him to continue renting the five-bedroom house to more than three people, as owners before him had done for some 20 years, he said.
Board members and community members opposed the exception, saying that the character of student housing areas includes issues such as noise, litter and parking congestion that single-family neighborhoods don’t want to deal with.
Five male students are currently renting Rayburg’s house, in the Whaley Street neighborhood near the USC campus and other student rental homes and apartments. Rayburg told the board that come June, he plans to transfer the lease to his daughter, a USC student, and four of her friends.
“It’s not going to set a (precedent) for other places that will apply for this because it’s a special exception. It’s taken one at a time,” Rayburg told the board. “I think a lot of the past activities (at the house) are what’s kind of prejudicing everyone in this decision for a special exception because there has been some bad history.”
Neighbors acknowledged that behavior by the house’s tenants had markedly improved since Rayburg took ownership. But board members were reluctant to grant his exception because they worried that under the house’s future ownership, the number and behavior of potential tenants would adversely affect the interest of the historic neighborhood.
Five people from several downtown neighborhoods spoke in opposition to Rayburg’s request. Kathryn Fenner, neighborhood association vice president for University Hill, which sits between campus and Five Points, said rooming houses do not make appropriate neighbors in single-family neighborhoods. Granting one exception, she said, would open the floodgates for others.
“If this had not been a problem property, nobody would have known” it was exceeding the occupancy rule, Fenner said. “I think this is going to discourage homeownership, which is something the city has consistently said is a great idea. ... I don’t think any of you would want to buy a property next to a rooming house.”
Rayburg said that without the rooming house exception, he plans to spend more than $30,000 to convert the house into a duplex, which will allow him to rent it to up to six unrelated people.
Zoning board chairman Ernest Cromartie asked the city zoning staff to be understanding of the fact that Rayburg has current tenants living in the house and that he took steps to make the situation right.