Zoning board: Stop renting unit

Hudson Avenue landlord said she was trying to be compliant

A ruling on Wednesday by the city Zoning Hearing Board will force a landlord to stop renting to one of two families that occupy her property on the 700 block of Hudson Avenue, in a single-family residential zone.

Kathy Stevens-Hatch argued that her having successfully obtained a rental license in 2015 and having successfully passed rental inspections since then meant she was in compliance with zoning law for that property, in which one family lives in a house and the other lives above a garage.

But board solicitor Bill Stokan pointed out that a 2013 Zoning Hearing Board decision that gave Stevens-Hatch (then known as Kathy Stevens) permission to use the garage for living space was contingent on its being occupied only by members of the same family that lived in the house.

“(T)he subject structure (the garage) will be for ‘family’ only and therefore there shall be no rentals whatsoever, howsoever or at any time to any ‘non-family’ individuals; provided further that the subject use shall never therefore be utilized for rental purposes.”

At the time of that ruling, Stevens-Hatch’s large family lived on the property, and needed more room, she told the board on Wednesday.

Since then, the Stevens-Hatches have moved to a larger house, which freed up the Hudson Avenue property to become a rental, she said.

“Obviously, I did not realize I was in any kind of a zoning violation,” Stevens-Hatch stated in a letter to the city zoning administrator.

The rental license and subsequent inspections should not have been an indication that it was OK to have two separate families on the property, as zoning law is not within the purview of the code officers who conduct rental inspections, Stokan said.

Code officers might be unaware of the zoning designation in a particular neighborhood and moreover might assume that the garage and the house on such a property as Stevens-Hatch’s were on separate lots, which would have made the arrangement legal, Stokan indicated.

The family renting the second floor of the garage — a man and three children — have occupied that space for a year, Stevens-Hatch said.

The lease runs until July, she said.

Board officials didn’t indicate that they’d try to force the family out before the lease expired.

The violation came to the attention of the board via a complaint that Stevens-Hatch was renting illegally to a student, which wasn’t true, according to Stevens-Hatch.

The board could only grant a variance allowing double-family occupancy in the Hudson Avenue neighborhood if there were some unique property characteristic that prevented its being used as the zoning designation requires, Stokan said.

“Obviously, it can (be used as the law intends),” Stokan said.

The financial advantage in deriving income from two rentals on that property is no basis for a variance, he said.

One zoning official suggested that Stevens-Hatch might be able to keep both rentals if she subdivided the property, separating the garage and the house.

But that would not likely be possible, based on several factors, given the small size of the lot, officials said after the meeting.

“I was trying to be compliant,” Stevens-Hatch said. “What could I have done differently?”

Everyone is required to know the applicable law, Stokan said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.