San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

Adam Bryan, Matthew Osborn and Nathan Wood, pictured here in front of the house they rent on Valero Drive, moved to San Marcos after serving two overseas tours together in the Marines. They have run afoul of a city ordinance that prohibits more than two unrelated people from living together in a home zoned for single-family use. PHOTO by SEAN BATURA


An ordinance intended to keep Texas State University students and other young people from disturbing the peace of single-family neighborhoods has ensnared three former U.S. Marines who were twice deployed together in the Iraq the Afghanistan wars and want to live together as civilians.

After their stints in the service ended, Adam Bryan, Matthew Osborn and Nathan Wood enrolled at the university and, in January, leased a four-bedroom home in the El Camino subdivision where they say they get along with the neighbors. Police say there have been no noise complaints or other calls for service at the address this year.

At least one person, however, apparently lodged an anonymous complaint about the trio’s violation of an ordinance that prohibits more than two unrelated people from living together in a house zoned for single-family use. In August, City Marshal Ken Bell’s office sent the men a letter saying they were breaking the law and at least one of them would have to move or they would face eviction and potential fines of up to $2,000 a day.

Wood says he has moved out of the house to come into compliance but the disruption to their living arrangements has outraged them, in part, because of their military service. The larger issue, they say, is an ordinance clearly intended to target students. They feel so strongly about the issue that they have filed a housing discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urband Development and rejected out-of-hand a compromise proposed by council member Jude Prather that would have exempted active and reserve duty military if their homes are not deemed to be a neighborhood nuisance.

“The problem that I have with this revision is it doesn’t address the real issue at hand. …If a revision is to be made with this ordinance, then is should apply to all students,” Osborn said.

The single-family occupancy restrictions has been on the books since 1963 but periodically becomes a flashpoint of town and gown tension.

In 2004, the city council created Bell’s marshal’s office and empowered it to enforce a range of codes and ordinances from unkempt grass to fire hazards to the occupancy restriction. When dozens of residents angry about loud parties and drunken driving in the area of the Sagewood development off Craddock Avenue flooded City Hall in 2007, their demands included stricter enforcement of the occupancy restrictions. In the weeks that followed, police stepped up enforcement in Sagewood which led to a backlash, again played out at the speaker’s podium in the city council chambers.

In response to the escalating problems, the council established a taskforce to consider a system proposed by Bell that would require landlords to register with the city and submit to inspections. That, predictably, angered rental property owners who staged their own City Hall insurrection in spring 2008 and led the council to dissolve the taskforce before it had even made recommendations.

“We couldn’t get very far because several interests clashed,” Bell said. “We were tasked with evaluating the possibility of doing renter registration. A lot of cities were looking at that at the time, some of them were getting into it, some were getting out of it. That was dissolved by the council at the time, to stop moving forward with that piece.”

At roughly the same time, the city and university embarked on the much-praised Achieving Community Together initiative that is credited with resolving some of the issues. But the single-family occupancy restriction remains a centerpiece of the city’s efforts to tamp down on disruptive college and college-aged behavior that homeowners often describe in terms of an invasion of their peaceful neighborhoods. When it is brought up like in the course of city council elections — and it always is — it is usually in the form of neighbors asking why it is not enforced more aggressively.

So the issues surrounding the single-family rule have been tread and retread. What’s new about the El Camino case is a situation fraught with political peril for a City Hall not eager to be seen as oppressing soldiers just returned from the battlefield.

“They chose to live together for two reasons. After weathering five years of military service together, they could not stand to break the bonds of brotherhood that it created. And sharing living expenses allowed them to stretch the meager stipends they receive from the G.I. Bill and remain focused on their educations,” wrote Lt. William Powell, who owns the home on Valero Drive and is himself deployed to Afghanistan. He wrote City Manager Jim Nuse that he had to rent the house to whoever would take it because his previous tenants did not pay rent for five months and he needs to the rental income to pay the mortgage on a home he can’t sell.

“Why is it that a family can live in a property rent free for 5 months, enjoying the protection of the city court and legal system, yet responsible, rent-paying tenants are sent an eviction notice with a 14 day deadline and no avenue for rebuttal or recourse? It appears the swift justice is only possible in San Marcos if the city itself is the one desiring the ‘justice’,” Powell said.

Propery manager Rick Tarr, whose company Prime Property Management leased the home to the Marines, claims improbably that he did not know the home was in the city limits. Still, he says the city should use common sense in not picking on the veterans.

“As a Vietnam-era veteran, I am incensed that the city would not allow three Marines who served our country an exception to this ridiculous ordinance,” Tarr said. “All of us who have served our country are brothers and sisters in a way that no one can understand unless they too have put their lives at stake as we all have done. This is not right nor is it fair.”

Bell said his office does not investigate a residence for occupancy restriction violations unless his office recieves at least one complaint about the residence. Bell said his office investigates about 57 such cases per Texas State semester.

San Marcos Neighborhood Commission Chair Elena Duran said the law is legitimate response to a recurring problem in San Marcos. She said in her neighborhood, Hills of Hays, one home was rented by four male college students all of whom had girlfriends. Commonly, eight cars would be parked at the house and on the narrow residential street as a result of their living there.

“It makes our property value go down,” Duran said. “I’m really kind of for (the occupancy restriction) because it protects our property rights as homeowners. … We need across-the-board enforcement.”

CORRECTION: This story originally stated that a city law prohibiting more than two unrelated people from living in a home zoned for single-family use dates to the 1980s. In fact, city staff say the definition of a single-family home as being occupied by no more than two unrelated people first appeared in the city’s zoning ordinance in 1963.



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43 thoughts on “Law targeting Texas State students ensnares Marine vets

  1. When we make popular exemptions for the politically favored, then ordinances which are unfair to them remain unfair to the less favored yet nobody cares. It is no more unfair to these three because they served than it is to three childhood friends going to school together, so bravo to the three gentlemen for challenging the ordinance and not accepting the silly compromise.

    If Bell would just enforce the noise ordinances, the parking restrictions and the party restrictions, then he wouldn’t have to inquire into people’s living arrangements — marines, students, families, etc.

  2. Agreed. My compliments to these fellow servicemen for not compromising their character when offered the easy out of an exemption. None of us went to war so we can live in a country of laws that target groups of people or treat people differently. Next time you consider a law like this, replace student/person with African-American and tell me if it would still be okay. If not, it has to go.

    I sympathize with people that have problems with their neighbors, college students or not, but this is a college town. There are a lot of pros and cons to it. Learn to deal with those. Make the best of it. Either accept all of it or go away. You cannot have your cake and eat it too.

  3. I tend to agree with these Marines. As a student at Texas State I feel lumped into a category of an ‘irresponsible college student’. The hurdles I had to jump before moving into my current apartment were nearly enough to deter my interest!

  4. I’ve long said this–the sf zoning issue as currently constructed may be prone to constitutional challenge. SCOTUS hasn’t dealt with the definition of “family” since the 1974 Belle Terre v. Boraas case. Since then there have been major changes in society in regards to how to define family, changes in how people approach relationships, mainstreaming of gay relationships and their lack of access to legal recognition. It has become increasingly convoluted to the point that SCOTUS needs to reexamine the issue.

  5. From my point of view, the ordinance is kind of a consensus position among the larger part of the permanent community. But its still surprising to me how blunt and inflexible it is. Is having a foster home in San Marcos illegal? What about a gay couple who adopt a kid? What about three old women who can have a higher quality of life if they share expenses?

  6. Being a home owner in San Marcos, I am all for this ordinance. Unfortunately for myself, I happen to live outside the city limits. I wish this ordinance covered my neighborhood.

    While I am thankfull for their service to our Nation. I have zero sympathy for the three students in the article. They have plenty of options in this town for living where they are all three together.

    I know for a fact that many of the apartment complexes here in San Marcos have apartments where there are three bedrooms with one private and one shared bathroom with a communal kitchen/living area.

    I see first hand what the rotten apples at the college do to this town. I took it personally when the supposedly “mature” graduate students next door got drunk and drove through my front yard and took out my mailbox without stopping. I get tired of seeing there yard full of beer cans every weekend. I also get tired of the other rental house on the street, having five cars parked in the front yard and trash everywhere.

    How much am I going to have to lower the cost of my house if I wanted to sell it move out? Who wants to buy a house with that disaster next door and the other disaster down the street?

    I know that there are plenty of good college students but until they ALL grow up, the city of San Marcos should stick to a tough stance.

  7. Hey Guys,

    I got a solution for you. If Bryan and Osborn get married then there are only two unrelated people in the house. Oh thats right, your in Texas, sorry guys thats a no go. I bet Bryan was finally hoping to have only one first name too. Bahahaha

    Just Kidding guys!
    HOA’s SUCK!

    -The only one left

  8. We have renters in our neighborhood, student and non-student, without an issue. Half the renters on Sagewood are not students. It is inflammatory, and inaccurate, to position this as a “law targeting students.” It stirs up town and gown tensions and benefits nobody.

    There are a vocal minority of residents, who like to blame the students, and there are politicians and media members who like to play it up. The fact of the matter, is that most residents (renters and owners) are not even students. Shame on Sean and Brad for choosing to stir the pot, for the sake of a few more eyeballs and comments, making it that much more difficult to solve real problems here in San Marcos.

    The headline *should* have been “Law Targeting Problem Renters Ensnares Marine Vets.”

    That being said, while I support having, and enforcing, zoning for single family, multi-family, commercial, etc., I do not believe it gets to the heart of the problems cited by Dan. Unfortunately, Dan is outside of the city, so I do not know what protection he has. Within the city, we have ordinances to cover noise, blight and the like, and they need to be enforced, consistently and even-handedly.

    Dan’s renters sound like the single family owners who were down the street from us, a few years ago. The city needs to take better care of its neighborhoods, period.

  9. The property rental company should not have rented this to the 3 men. I don’t understand the rental company’s ignorance on the property’s status. That’s their job to know this.

    Kind of like illegal immigration: Everyone knows a lot of good people that the law negatively effects, but you can’t randomly pick and choose who you want to apply it change the laws.

  10. Ken Bell during a Sept. 19 interview: “We average about 57 [occupancy restriction violation] investigations a semester. So that’s a little over 100 cases a year. And all of them are the same from the standpoint of, you usually have a home, it usually has three people in it, usually sometimes four. They’re typically — not always — but most of the time they’re college folks. Sometimes they’re not. And what comes along with that draws the attention of their neighbors. Usually [garbled] the multiple amount of vehicles blocking streets or roadways, which may or may not be an issue. But something attracted the attention of the general public to note that there was a lot of people living there and the things that come along with that. Generally that’s how it works. Generally people complain to us because of parking, trash, and noise. Those are the three issues that will generate a complaint to our office about R1 [occupancy restriction] violations. Thirty percent of the complaints are typically found not to be true.”

  11. Also, the comments from “Good Work Marines” are as misguided as those from people blaming students, because s/he essentially states that these are problems caused by college students, and everyone else just needs to deal with it.

    No, they don’t.

    There is no reason for people to have to deal with renters/landlords/property managers who trash their neighborhoods. Most people don’t like living next to a house that is falling apart. Most people don’t like to see beer cans and garbage all over the neighbor’s lawn. Students file as many noise complaints as non-students and most of the students I know, who live in single-family neighborhoods, do so to get away from that crap.

    There is no reason that anyone, student or non-student, ought to have to deal with 4 AM garage parties, trash all over the place, or anything else like that. I just don’t know that SF zoning has much to do with solving that problem. SF (and other) zoning serve a purpose, but I don’t know that it has much to do with issues like noise and blight.

    The idea that people in San Marcos ought to just deal with it, is preposterous. Even most students don’t want to deal with it.

  12. So, Ken Bell is a statistician now? Did he write the SF zoning regulations?

    Believe me, I am far from stating that Mr. Bell isn’t part of the problem, but the neighbors are having problems with certain renters.

    57 investigations per semester. 100-ish per year. “Some” are not students. Hmmm. How many? How many turn out to be unfounded altogether? How many are like this one, where there is no real problem? How many are repeat offenders? It doesn’t really matter. There are about 15,000 students living in San Marcos, and probably 10,000 live off campus (very round numbers).

    If EVERY one of these involved students, and EVERY one of these turned out to be legitimate, and EVERY one of these turned out to have legitimate nuisance issues associated, and EVERY one of these is unique, then you’re talking about 300-ish students, out of a population of 10,000. 3%, at best.

    Tell me again how citing Ken Bell’s expertise (without even getting into how little credibility Mr. Rollins generally gives Mr. Bell) and putting “Law Targeting Students” in the headline is meant to do anything other than generate pageviews by stirring the pot.

    This is a small portion of the population, and some out of town landlords, creating problems for a huge portion of the population, and playing with the media and politicians, like puppets on strings, to keep the problem (them) from being addressed, and gentlemen like the renters and the owner in this story get caught in the crossfire.

  13. While I do believe that our neighborhoods need to be protected from abusive renters (or abusive owners for that matter), I am firmly against any ordinance that attempts to define who is and is not allowed to live in a certain area. Property owners (in this case landlords) should have a right to lease their property to anyone that can pay the rent. If those tenants break other ordinances regarding litter, noise, or cause other disturbances then punish them but it’s just too ugly to say ban them all.

    Put it like this…..replace the word “college student” with “African American” and does it still sound OK. If not, then it’s probably wrong. Would you dare say “I don’t want property owners renting to African Americans in my neighborhood?” I would hope not.

    The solution is to drop the discrimination against college students altogether and simply enforce the OTHER ordinances on the books that deal with the problems that SOME college students (and many non-student renters, and some property owners) cause.

  14. Dano, the problem is, as we have seen in the past, when you enforce the other ordinances on the tiny fraction of our population who are causing problems, you get the same people claiming discrimination against students, and the politicians and media lap it up.

    That’s exactly what happened when the police stepped up noise enforcement on Sagewood a few years ago.

    The laws need to be enforced consistently and even-handedly and people need to look past their self-serving interests and call it what it is – addressing a problem caused by a tiny fraction of our population.

  15. To put it another way, there are about 18,700 single family houses and condos in San Marcos. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 are renter-occupied. 114 per year are reported to Ken Bell for SF zoning violations. That’s 1% of single family properties creating all this churn.

    I suspect most of those are reported, because of other issues, like noise and garbage. Let’s say, though, that half of them are just busybodies, reporting “problems” for the sake of reporting problems. Then, you’re looking at 1/2 of a percent of all single family properties, causing all of this churn.

    Throw in the noise and garbage complaints that come in without the SF zoning complaint, and you’re probably back up to 1, 2, 3%; something like that.

    Are we really saying that 97% of neighborhood residents, student and non-student alike, ought to put up with the BS from that 3%?

    This SF zoning enforcement may be the wrong tool to solve the problem, but there is a problem, and it is not a student problem. The people causing the problem just like to wave that shiny bauble, to distract everyone, and keep us from addressing the real issue.

  16. Also, I am a student, in a SF neighborhood. My wife and I started out as student renters in SF neighborhoods. We have students renting properties all around us, with no problems. We’ve had student roommates on numerous occasions, as recently as this past summer.

    This is not a student problem. That doesn’t mean that it is not a problem, not does it mean that any attempts to address the problem are “targeting students.”


  17. @Ted, you cannot deny that the ordinance outlawing three or more unrelated people from living together disproportionately affects students or young people of student age, because it does. Students or young people of student age are far more likely to live as roommates to lower the cost burden of rent. Students may not be expressly targeted in the creation of the ordinance, but they are the dominant group targeted by its enforcement.

    I agree that students aren’t the problem, bad neighbors are the problem and many time these are not students. That is why I think the ordinance is such a poor tool; it doesn’t address the problems of noise, trash and disregard; it focuses on living arrangements. I don’t like the ‘where there is smoke there is fire’ method of government control because it is over-inclusive.

  18. The same ordinance exists in non-college towns, all over the country. I suspect it is a larger issue here, because it is so easy to become a slumlord and rent out some houses.

    I agree that the ordinance is a poor tool, but even the right tool, if it turned out that 100% of the offenders were students (which will not be the case), will not the “targeting students,” by virtue of the fact that the vast majority of students will be untouched and MANY would benefit from solving the problem.

    Still, every attempt to address the problem of bad renters/bad neighbors, has brought the same people out of the woodwork, crying “discrimination against students,” pointing to the same two dozen locals who come out of the woodwork to blame students for everything.

    The headline, IMO, is meant to work those two groups into a froth, and it is probably working.

  19. I am one of the tenants in the property, I am the one who “stirred” the pot, and thankfully the option of using media resources to get that attention is an option in today’s society. We have received very little support from our representatives (the election is far to important), We have done nothing but benefit this property and this neighborhood since we moved in. The ordinance idea is plausible: the ordinance enforcement is not. there are areas for unrelated students to live, Most of them being in areas that the three of us were avoiding as calling home. We, just like any other tenant, did not want to deal with noisy neighbors regardless of the location. Some of the areas set aside for unrelated dwelling are not nearly as well maintained or quiet; these comfort traits were some among the top of our housing search. Some of the available areas are so far out of town we would be better off switching schools. Some of the available areas will not accommodate our home-goods: we did not show up here with a back pack and a bean bag, a studio apartment is not an option. Whether or not this ordinance is the solution to San Marcos’s student annoyance problem I don’t believe anybody can answer. However, whether or not there should be the option of allowing adults to chose where they call home is a very simple issue and this ordinance is debilitating that choice.

  20. People–when you own property of your own you will understand. The restrictions/ordinances were in place when you moved in. Don’t like it, don’t move in. Your service, while honorable, is DISHONORED by your use of veteran status as a card to get gain additional privileges. And I can say this because I’m a veteran myself.

  21. Nathan, you are not the one who stirred the pot. You are the one who is caught in the middle of a real problem and ham-fisted attempts to address that problem. You are caught between two very small groups, who seem bound and determined to keep the issue from being addressed.

    The fact that you moved to that neighborhood because MF options are “not nearly as well maintained or quiet,” only further supports my points that a) this is not a student issue and b) most students don’t want to live in loud, run-down slums, either.

    The only thing that happens when people position the noise/garbage/squalor as a student problem, or attempts to solve it as discriminating against students, is that nothing gets solved.

  22. If you read the article, we disproved a proposed exemption to alleviate the “military card” and I can say this because I was the one who disagreed.

  23. Nathan, I read it and applaud your stand. All of our ordinances should be fair, and consistently and even-handedly enforced. The SF zoning regulation is not the right tool for the job. Once people figure that out, it will be much easier to determine how the SF zoning regulation ought to read.

    That being said, people who don’t want the problems of Sagewood in their neighborhoods are not discriminating against students, any more than you were, when you decided that you didn’t want to live in that filth, either.

  24. Ted, I like the centrist, problem-solver hat you are wearing today… I disagree however that we are stirring the pot for the sake of stirring it.

    Suppressing the varied viewpoints on this issue doesn’t create harmony, just the illusion of harmony. I’ve always known you to be generous with your wide range of opinions so I took that as a sign that you recognize the value of discussion on these complicated issues. “Stirring the pot” doesn’t prevent solutions, it enables them.

  25. To an extent. It also gives far too much weight to two small groups, who seem to have no interest in solving anything.

  26. BTW, I am not suggesting that anyone’s viewpoint be suppressed, just the manner in which you have colored it, with the headline. I would be just as unhappy about a headline proclaiming “Rowdy Students Continue to Party on Sagewood, to the Chagrin of Hard Working Neighbors.”

  27. Ted, the comment ” if you read the article…” was directed @mr. Jordan. I appreciate everybody’s input, whether you agree or not.

  28. I know. I just wanted to be clear that the fact that you turned down special treatment was not lost on everyone.

  29. I dissagree with the ordinance, however I don’t believe that it should matter that they were in the military. They signed up for it, it was their job. They should not recieve special treatment, its not like they were drafted.

  30. The problem many in our fair city have is that a small group of people in single family neighborhoods like throwing loud parties, leave litter in their yards, and park too many cars on narrow streets. This ordinance treats these problems as if if they were symptoms of the disease of unrelated person’s living together. They are not. “Families” are just as capable of causing the offenses as unrelated person living together are. We need to completely rethink this ordinance.

  31. “Oppressing soldiers,” are you kidding??? This story is a joke. These Marines need to put their rifles back in their pants and abide by the law. If they need help transitioning, the university offers plenty of FREE resources to veterans. I would know, I co-founded the Veteran’s Alliance at Texas State. It’s a disgrace to throw military service in the face of civilians, expecting special privileges. And to say the G.I. Bill living stipend is “meager” is just plain idiotic. The sources in this story are far from credible and this is poor journalism.

  32. What I would like to know is how many San Marcos city council members and other members of San Marcos who are enforcing this law, have themselves broke it? Seems a little hypocritical to me to enforce a law that you yourself broke.

    And it is not only college students that leave their yards dirty with beer cans, trash, and throw house parties until the sunrise, so shame on you for stereotyping such things. There are plenty of trashy Americans who do that same exact thing.

    Who cares if they do decide to use their military service to their advantage, if you were in their situation I’m pretty sure you would do the exact same thing. What person wouldn’t?

    As for the ordinance goes, I think it is absolutely absurd. How is Texas State University supposed to expand if the city of San Marcos does not allow two or more people who are unrelated live together? This ordinance is completely outdated.

  33. Skeptical – You nailed it.

    This issue could make for some interesting discussion during the council race.

  34. I am pretty sure none of them are willing to admit it or want to assist in changing the law in fear of not being re-elected.

  35. The Statesman is reporting that the complaint to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, that he 1963 law violated the Fair Housing Act was unwarranted.

    They are also saying that there are 10 other complaints being investigated in that neighborhood. It sounds like these gentlemen were collateral damage from a larger problem.

    A more thorough investigation from our local media might have painted a different picture, than three veterans arbitrarily singled out. Who wants to say that problem renters may have cost these gentlemen the peace and quiet they sought in this neighborhood, though?

  36. I’d be curious to know what the history is with the 11 properties, and the neighborhood in general.

    Maybe the headline should have read “Lax enforcement of local ordinances lead struggling homeowners to take matters into their own hands; veterans caught in crossfire.”

  37. I didn’t start the spinning. I’m just providing possible alternatives to your discrimination spin.

    If you aren’t curious about the 11 complaints in the neighborhood, and what led to them, that is just beyond my comprehension.

  38. Someone just woke up one day, and decided to start counting cars and trying to figure out who was living where, and turned in a dozen complaints, because they were bored? Because they just couldn’t stand to have renters in the neighborhood, even if the houses were well maintained and the residents were quiet as church mice?

    I can think of a few people who would do that, but they don’t live in that neighborhood. Thankfully, most of the names that come to mind don’t even live in San Marcos.

    I guess anything is possible. Probably no need to dig any further.

  39. As an actual long-term resident, I will be fighting for the preservation of my property values long after these three graduate and move away. This nicer neighborhood that they want to park their motorcycle on the sidewalk of would cease to be a nicer neighborhood if the zoning codes were eliminated. As a property owner, I am unwilling to take a depreciation in my property’s value just to do what is ‘not so lame’ for residents who use this town as a convenient store on their way somewhere else. If these guys owned property in San Marcos, they would be on the other side of the argument. Trash, parking, and noise complaints are not effective tools in removing problem renters from a neighborhood. Zoning enforcement is an effective tool. Maybe they should have accepted what Jude offered them. It is too bad that they are caught up in this struggle, and the property management company should be held accountable for what they knowingly did. Maybe the city should take a look at all of their rental agreements to see how many times they are ignoring the regulations.
    The zoning regulations protect more people than they harm. San Marcos is on the cusp of an explosion in development. Responsibility to its actual residents and the protection of their neighborhoods should remain a top priority to the developers and city council in managing this development.

  40. I’m a property owner and I think the ordinance is bunk. But then the value of my home isn’t the only thing I am thinking about either…..

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