Residences on Beeler Street put under law scrutiny

The independence of Carnegie Mellon students living on Beeler Street is under the public eye and may soon be tested. In the past month, a grievance has been filed with the city citing a Pittsburgh ordinance that makes it illegal for landlords to rent out houses to a group of more than three unrelated residents.

This information was initially communicated to David Chickering, the Mudge housefellow and a resident of Beeler, at the beginning of this school year.

“I was going down the street, and I noticed that people from the city were looking at houses, and they let me know that there was a possible violation,”
Chickering said. “Afterwards, I spoke to Councilman [William] Peduto’s office and he let me know that they were checking if there were possible code violations and that the Bureau of Building Inspections would investigate.”

Chickering noted that concerns over this issue were not brought about from older residents but rather from a specific individual.

“In Oakland, a few years ago, there were fires involving students, over-occupied homes, missing fire alarms, that sort of thing. The old mayor was really concerned about the condition of some of the places,” Chickering said. “So the residents of Beeler and the association and the city wants to make sure that the people living on Beeler are safe and that the neighborhood is nice.”

Some Carnegie Mellon students were completely unaware of the law.

“In regards to Pittsburgh’s three-unrelated-persons ordinance, I would say that I did not have any prior knowledge of the law and definitely did not know it existed when I signed my lease,” said Karthik Kumar, a junior business administration major and Beeler Street resident.

However, an individual effort was made on Chickering’s part to educate students about this law.

“I try and stop by and give people a warning. My role is to make sure our students are safe and happy and know their rights, but that they are also obeying the law,” Chickering said.

At the beginning of the year, he went down Beeler multiple times knocking on residents’ doors and letting them know of garbage and noise regulations as well as asking them to review their lease regarding the issue of more than three unrelated residents living in the house.

The call for such a form of door-to-door mass communication came from a separate, but equally pressing issue.

“Every time I have the HUB generate a list of students who live on Beeler, it is under 20, but of course more than that live on Beeler. Students just don’t register their new addresses due to their usage of SMCs,” said Chickering.

Carnegie Mellon students are concerned with the unfair nature of the law.

“Beeler has turned into a college student’s opportunity to find alternative housing, so if there is a house with rooms that could fit more than three residents then it seems unfair to students and landlords to restrict residence by an outdated law. Students are looking for economical housing,” said Yarden Harari, a senior architecture student and resident of Beeler Street.

This sentiment was echoed by other Beeler residents.

“It’s an unfair law because it’s mostly students living on Beeler. If we could have more people live in a house and pay less, why not? Technically, the house I am living in is $2400 a month, and if we split it between only three people, that would be $800 a month, which is ridiculous — if we are legally allowed to have up to four people on the lease, it makes more sense to split the rent among them,” said In-Kyoung Kim, a sophomore architecture major.

For some students, living in an off-campus house is a personal choice while for others, it is a matter of necessity.

“I did not know of this ordinance when moving off campus, and with the current living situation, most of the sophomores aren’t guaranteed housing close to campus so moving off campus is more ideal,” said Jennifer Chui, a sophomore biology major and resident in a house on Forbes.

The nature of such a problem makes it an issue to not only residents of Beeler Street, but of the entire locality.

“It definitely seems like an outdated law, and honestly I can’t really see the purpose of the law in the first place. I would argue that it should not affect me or my peers at all, seeing as it should be the landlord’s responsibility, not ours, to make sure that they are being consistent with Pittsburgh ordinances,” Kumar said.

This liability concern was addressed by Chickering.

“If there are more than three people on the lease then that would be an issue between the city and the landlord. It is up to the landlords to be responsible,” Chickering said.

Peduto’s office and the Bureau of Building Inspection failed to comment.

Chickering insisted that Carnegie Mellon would play a role if the city were to choose to take action.

“If our students were to be displaced because of this, I think that Carnegie Mellon would take good care of them and in any situation would try to make sure that the their lives are as peaceful as possible,” Chickering said. “If they are in an unhealthy living situation, then they should speak to the Office of Student Affairs and we will help them find a solution.”