Students, community speak out against new Narragansett renter requirement

Forum speakers clash over student representation, town identity

Starting this academic year, the Narragansett Town Council is only allowing three unrelated undergraduate students to live together in any Narragansett rental property. 

On Sept. 19, Narragansett’s Town Council opened the floor to concerns regarding both the zoning ordinance and the new rental registration.

Narragansett Town Council President Jesse Pugh began the town hall meeting by addressing an “apparently hot topic” regarding the proposed rental registration for college students living in Narragansett. He said that this information will be kept in a secure database, and that no names will be posted publicly. Pugh also explained that the new database is a way for the town to monitor how many students are living in each Narragansett house, in order to make sure that both landlords and students are following the three student limit.

There was an array of reactions to this information since the room seated people of all ages and resident statuses — from renting college students to full-time Narragansett residents.

Some full-time Narragansett residents view their town as a place to preserve community and identity and see the annual influx of college students as a disruption to this harmony. 

Dennis Lynch, a resident of Narragansett, explained that there are only fifteen thousand people living full time in Narragansett– and that students put a “tremendous strain” on the town. 

“Many many students perform beautifully socially, very civil and calm,” Lynch said. “But it changes neighborhoods. It makes things transitory.”

Similar to Lynch, many full-time residents at the Town Hall meeting supported the council’s decision to regulate how many students are able to rent in the town. 

While some older residents see the town as a place where all age groups can thrive together, many associate the months of September through May with parties, overcrowded streets, and noise.

“[We] need to control the number of people who live in this town,” said Joeseph Franchina, a full-time resident since 2003. “[Not having] the [three-student] ordinance stresses out the town.”

However, many University of Rhode Island students believe that noise and parties are not a justified reason to limit who can rent and stay in Narragansett. The URI students who spoke out against the ordinance and required registration urged the room to see how these laws affect them personally.

URI does not have the room to house all of its 14,000 undergraduate students and has relied on Narragansett landlords to house students for years. Without guaranteed places to rent during the academic year, many URI students are being forced to lie on leases in order to attend in-person classes.

“I hope that the town will reconsider and see this as an opportunity not to discriminate against college students [and] to bring the communities together in Narragansett,” Christopher Hoover, the Student Senate director of treasury at URI, said.

Pugh furthered his opening statement at Monday’s meeting, saying that none of the names submitted in the rental registrations will be posted publicly in any way by the town. Pugh additionally assured the meeting attendees that the names are for internal use only and are required simply to enforce the housing ordinance put in place last year. 

According to Chapter 1088 of the Narragansett Government’s document center, the ordinance requires that “a dwelling or dwelling unit shall not be occupied by more than three college students unless the building in which the dwelling is located is owner occupied.”

During the meeting, it was mentioned that landlords renting to more than three University of Rhode Island students in Narragansett are sometimes having only three students sign off on a lease. 

While the requirement for landlords to record their student renters’ names in a database was only meant to help enforce the law, according to Pugh, many URI students, as well as full-time Narragansett residents, expressed concern over the way it has been carried out.

Adrianna Duffy was one of the URI students who spoke out against the rental registration changes at the meeting. Duffy said that she believes that the town voting for these new ordinances was unrepresentative. Duffy contended that the decision to require landlords to digitally disclose students’ names was made by a population of residents, not including students.

“The date that the decision was made to have the names listed on the registration. . . in July. . . was [when] the population was at a lower point than it currently is because there was a lack of students that were involved in that population,” Duffy said. “There was a lack of representation for the students in [the] decision that was made overall.”

In addition to concerns about their representation in voting matters, students also questioned why the decision to strictly enforce a three-student limit was made in the first place. The ordinance “hasn’t stopped partying and the other reasons [it] was created,” URI student and renter Giovanna Doldo said.

“Narragansett relies on the money flow [of students],” said Duffy at the town meeting. She, along with other URI students,  believe that they greatly contribute to and support Narragensett’s income– and used this belief as a reason to argue against the three-undergraduate limit.

Grace Kiernan, a senior at URI and president of the URI student senate, emphasized the importance of why renters like herself should have a say in Town Council decisions. 

“The Narragansett economy is based [on] summer tourist industries and then off-campus URI living,” Kiernan said. “What are you doing if you are eliminating this community? Where do you want us to go?”

According to Narragansett resident Karen Liner, the Council’s choice to have landlords record their renters’ names is not a new concept. Liner said that the lease has always been required to be posted on the back of the door of a residence for law enforcement in case of emergencies. Liner continued by saying that, in her opinion, the database now required serves “no real purpose.”

Many URI students renting in Narragansett expressed that they see this database as an intrusion on their right to privacy and have fears about what a data breach could mean for them. Many students brought up concerns about possible hacking incidents that could put their private information at risk.

Molly Ahern, a student renter, mentioned the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority’s data breach that happened in February of this year and fears the same will happen to the town of Narragansett.

The students were not the only ones opposing this new database, however. Robert Pattinson, a full-time Narragansett resident and father of three daughters, expressed his concerns for his children.

“It makes me uncomfortable knowing that my daughters are being turned over to a database for a reason which is not clear to me,” Patterson said.

A major point of defense for the URI students and those against the ordinance was safety and stalking concerns. There have been reports about frequent check-ins and footage recorded by residents of student houses. Some students have reported residents looking into their windows and taking unsolicited photos of their homes.

Lynch, a Narragansett resident who attended the Town Hall Meeting, spoke in approval of the Council’s Zoning Ordinance and Rental Registration changes. According to Lynch, “more and more properties are turned into rentals,” and the Ordinance is an attempt to slow down the growth. He believes that the “fabric of the community” is damaged “with new people switching in and out each year.”

However, others spoke in accordance with URI’s student body and saw Narragansett as a town aided by the students of URI.

“Let’s praise the students for being here,” said Stan Wojciechowski, a long-time resident who spoke at the Town Hall meeting. 

Although the three-student-limit and landlord database have created a rift between renting students and full-time residents, both groups attended the meeting on Sept. 19 to express their concerns.