Narragansett reinstates 3-student ordinance

The Narragansett Town Council passed an ordinance on July 17 prohibiting more than three college students from renting a single-family home.

The purpose of the ordinance is to incentivise homeowners to rent to families instead of college students, according to Narragansett Properties Vice President and owner, Evan Morrill. During the public hearing, various residents spoke of noise complaints and bringing balance back to the town Narragansett.

Despite this purpose, the ordinance is doing the opposite, according to Morrill.

As the school year approached this September, Morrill still had houses available for students. On average, Morill shows between 40-50 houses a day to students for the upcoming 2024-2025 academic year. He said business has been booming.

This is what Morrill emphasized to the Town Council during the public hearing in July. Although the ordinance prohibits more than three college students from renting a home in Narragansett, prices remain high from a similar ordinance’s initial passing in 2020.

On Aug. 24, 2020, the Narragansett Town Council approved an ordinance that allowed only 3 students per rental. They based their ordinance on precedent from Federal Hill Capital, LLC v. City of Providence, where the Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled to uphold a similar ordinance in Providence where only three college students were allowed in rentals.

Soon after the passing in 2020, the Supreme Court denied the enforcement of the ordinance. On Aug. 18, 2021, the Council, again, voted to pass the ordinance. The Supreme Court, once again, denied the ordinance.

According to a statement written in the Narragansett Town Council Agenda Item Report, “The Court has never ruled on the substance of the ordinance, only on procedural errors.”

The ordinance’s language was revised on June 1, 2023 and completed on June 20, 2023 at their regular meeting.

The council voted unanimously to pass the revised ordinance on July 17, 2023. As Morrill spoke in front of the council that day, he pointed out the rise in rental prices since the ordinance’s initial passing in 2020.

“Over the last couple of years you can see that your theory is not panning out,” Morrill said. “In fact it is doing the opposite.”

According to Morrill, the average price of bedrooms has risen to $1000-1200 a month. As many families cannot afford such high prices, homeowners have continued to rent to students – just at higher rates. Morrill says he’s received many houses that were previously rented to families. Once appraisers hear the income they can make during the school year and during the summer, homeowners begin renting to students instead.

Students are directly affected by the ordinance. With the introduction of the ordinance, student’s have to adjust as a result of the rise in rental prices.

Caitlyn Muteru, a first-year graduate student at URI, has been directly affected by the ordinance since her second undergraduate year.

“I think it’s unfair,” Muteru said. “Most groups of students that live off-campus are a group of four or five.”

With a group of roommates totaling over three, it was difficult to abide by the three-person rule.

“The town has really already done the damage,” Morill said.

According to the 2022 census, 2.4 % of the Narragansett population is under five years old. In comparison to 2020, the entire population of Narragansett has decreased 0.2%. Morill says he’s noticed that the 4th grade class of Narragansett has begun to dwindle.

Morrill said the COVID-19 pandemic has also played a part in the market becoming more expensive. According to him, many residents of cities in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts chose to relocate to Rhode Island. Beach towns, like Narragansett, were especially desirable because of the proximity to the ocean.

Although realtor companies like Narragansett Properties aren’t affected negatively by the ordinance, they still have to strictly abide. Cramped housing offered on-campus incentivises students to seek out companies like Narragansett Properties for off-campus options. Due to the ordinance, price hikes will likely continue, according to Morrill.

Some Narragansett residents wished for balance to the town during the public hearing on August 7. Many homeowners wish to rent as they please, according to Morrill. If the Supreme Court remains agreeable on the most recent ordinance’s procedures, the town of Narragansett will continue to undergo change within the housing market, according to Morrill.