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Allow limited room rentals

A dispute over four rented rooms in west Medford has raised the issue of Medford's city code prohibiting "boarding houses" in single-family neighborhoods. Without taking sides in the specific case, we think the city should revisit its rules to allow room rentals, with appropriate limitations.

The case that raised the issue involves an addition to a house on South Columbus Avenue. The addition contains four bedrooms, each with a separate entrance and a bathroom but no kitchen. A man who rents one of the rooms says he could not afford to live anywhere else.

State Sen. Jason Atkinson, R-Central Point, says room rentals are an important source of affordable housing. He tried unsuccessfully in the recent legislative session to pass a bill allowing owners of single-family homes to rent rooms without a permit.

Atkinson is right, up to a point. Apartment complexes are not permitted in single-family zones, and should not be. That's what multi-family zones are for.

The owner of large single-family house who rents out four or five bedrooms to separate tenants is in effect creating a multi-family dwelling where it doesn't belong. If all the tenants have cars, the parking problems alone would give neighbors reason to object.

But allowing a homeowner to rent one or two bedrooms to lodgers would offer an option to people who can't afford the rent on an apartment or a house.

Medford's city code currently defines a "boarding or rooming house" as a dwelling where lodging is provided for compensation. The code language does not specify a number of lodgers, so even one would meet the definition.

Boarding houses are a permitted use in multiple-family residential zones, but are a conditional use in single-family zones, requiring a permit from the city. That's appropriate in the case of a homeowner renting multiple rooms to separate tenants, but a bit heavy-handed if it prevents a homeowner from renting to one or two lodgers who would otherwise be unable to afford housing.

The situation is muddied by the fact that the city apparently hasn't bothered to enforce the boarding house provisions.

The chairwoman of the city's Housing and Community Development Commission says the commission wants to change the code language. The City Council should consider doing that, setting reasonable limits on the number of rooms that can be rented and the number of tenants. Then the city should enforce the code.


The National Federation of Independent Business has not taken a position on Sen. Ron Wyden's Healthy Americans Act. Wednesday's editorial was in error.