Student rentals of single-family homes force families out of Boulder neighborhood

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BOULDER, Colo. -- Crazy college parties full of beer and loud music are happening just blocks from an elementary school in Boulder’s University Hill neighborhood.

The neighborhood is undergoing a major change as student rentals are forcing families to move out.

“It’s so close to the mountains and it’s just incredibly picturesque,” resident Jennifer Palmer said.

The Hill is a vibrant neighborhood nestled between the University of Colorado and the Flatirons. It is a wonder place for families and very popular for students.

“There’s a blend here that can be beautiful but also really challenging,” Palmer said.

When classes let out, the neighborhood charm can wear off. On sunny weekend days, beer pong tables line front yards up and down the streets.

“It looks like a really fun time,” Palmer said. “But it’s tough when you see little kids walking in your neighborhood.”

University Hill neighbors said Friday and Saturday nights are the worst.

“They’re taking things out into the street and setting them on fire. They’re taking televisions and smashing them in the middle of the road,” Palmer said.

“They’re just screaming at the top of their lungs right in front of your house. That goes from say 11 o’clock till 2 and 3 in the morning,” homeowner Scott Thompson said.

Thompson bought a home in University Hill 15 years ago. He is one of only two families left on his block. The rest are what some describe as makeshift dorms.

“There are six-plexes built behind these large family houses that have 20 kids living in one lot,” Thompson said. “We know it’s a student area and we don’t mind the students. The problem is when it gets overrun, it’s a bit difficult.”

Thompson said the problem is getting worse as CU continues to have record enrollment.

Property records for homes near 10th Street and College Avenue over the past few years show student rentals have been booming. Some streets are now half students and half families.

CU spokesman Bronson Hilliard said the university is not the problem for the shift in neighborhood dynamics.

“Over the last 10 years, we have only seen an average growth of about 0.6 percent a year. The numbers don’t bare out," he said.

Boulder city leaders agree with Hilliard.

“It’s not an issue necessarily of lack of available housing for students. They just want to live here because it’s a fun place to be,” Boulder City Councilman Andrew Shoemaker said.

So investors are cashing in. A single-family home on the corner of 10th and College would sell for just under $1 million. As a business, because it houses at least eight people, Shoemaker said that same house would be worth about $1.6 million.

Boulder families can’t afford those inflated price tags so they lose bids to real estate investors and out-of-state CU parents who can afford those prices. Those buyers then rent the single-family homes to students.

“The parent isn’t there, the kids run it into the ground for the next five years and then it becomes a student rental forever,” Shoemaker said.

Now, fed-up homeowners are demanding a change. Boulder has agreed to crack down on the existing rental laws, which are often not enforced in University Hill. The law says only three unrelated people can live in a single-family home.

“A lot of the out-of-state parents don’t even realize what the rules are here so we’re trying to close that loophole,” Shoemaker said.

That is a move people who own homes on the Hill hope will make real estate prices more affordable again and bring some balance back to the neighborhood.

Some of the student properties in the area are grandfathered into older occupancy laws that let eight students live in a house together. Boulder says it will only enforce rules at other rental homes on a complaint basis.