Ocean City Today

Crowded housing becomes focus of resort this season

By Greg Ellison | May 03, 2018
Source: File Photo

(May 4, 2018) Along with stepping up enforcement of the resort’s rental license requirement, Ocean City officials are looking to curtail overcrowded J-1 student housing this summer.

Planning Director Bill Neville said anyone renting housing in Ocean City is required to obtain a license and noise permit. Rental properties also are subject to inspections for occupancy rates, as well as fire and safety standards.

“We want to make sure we’re reducing the [overcrowding] problem this year,” he said. “This goes hand in hand with our message that we want everyone to have a rental license.”

Neville said Ocean City adheres to the International Property Maintenance Code standards to avoid overcrowding rentals and maintaining safety standards, which includes minimum floor area requirements for bedrooms, dining and living areas.

These include minimum bedroom sizes of 70 square feet, to include 40 square feet per person, as well as at least 120 square feet of living space. Rental properties with three to five tenants require at least 200 square feet of combined living /dining space, which increases to 250 square feet for six or more individuals.

“Right now we’re doing a pre-season check on anybody we received a complaint on last year,” he said.

In some instances, Neville said landlords overload the bed count in deference to city code.

“Instead of two single beds, at times there will be two double beds,” he said.

Neville said the city would also have a renewed focus on enforcing its noise ordinance this summer.

“It’s our best way of working with property owners and tenants,” he said. “After several noise complaints, we would consider suspending or revoking a rental license.”

Under city code, it is unlawful for anyone to generate noise that is audible from a distance of 50 feet and disturbs the peace and safety of other. The standard is most rigorously enforced from midnight to 7 a.m.

Anne Marie Conestabile, United Work & Travel program director, supports the city campaign to address housing challenges and abuses.

“The codes should be enforced because in the past we’ve had lots of issues with overcrowding,” she said.

Responsible for a large percentage of the roughly 4,000 J-1 visa student workers in Ocean City each summer, Conestabile says she worked to assure housing arrangements for this summer’s recruits.

“I have close to 1,300 students coming in and we have housing for every single one of them,” she said. “We’ve had to scurry to procure the housing that is necessary.”

Rick Fairbend, who along with his wife, Pat, runs the Irish Outreach Center at 12th Street and Baltimore Avenue, said locating housing is the largest challenge for J-1 student workers.

“There are places out there, you just have to look for them,” he said.

While appreciative of the city’s effort to maintain safe living standards, Fairbend said economic factors typically motivate seasonal workers to live in tight quarters.

“They’re paying over $2,000 a season,” he said.

For her part, Conestabile has continued to find an increased number of rental properties and job opportunities in West Ocean City.

“I get jobs with employers located in West Ocean City, so the students don’t have to cross the bridge to go to work,” she said. “We have quite a few who work … and live in West Ocean City.”

Fairbend said landlords are trending toward renting per student, instead of setting a price for the entire unit.

“It keeps kids from cramming more in to cut costs,” he said. “Overcrowding is more of an issue when a house is rented as whole.”

Conestabile encourages rental property owners to obtain licensing and abide city codes for living space requirements.

“My advice would be for landlords to be one step ahead if they want peace of mind for the summer,” she said.

Neville said the campaign to achieve greater compliance with rental regulations appears to be yielding results.

“Finance Director [Chuck Bireley] has a number of new rental license applications and seems to think letting people know the rules has helped,” he said.

Although staffing limitations prohibit widespread housing inspections during summer, Neville said the city would respond when contacted regarding housing issues.

“We will go back over in the summer on a complaint basis,” he said.

The Property Review and Enforcement Strategies for Safe-housing committee, or P.R.E.S.S., coordinates housing regulation enforcement between numerous city departments, including police, building, zoning, fire marshal and rental licensing.

The P.R.E.S.S. committee said community members should report properties that may violate safety, building or health codes. Citizens with concerns or complaints are asked to call the Office of Planning and Community Development at 410-289-8855.


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