Debate over 'roommate law' a reminder of zoning and housing laws

Far to the north of New York City lies Watertown, a quaint city near the Canadian border. As you can imagine, Watertown's real estate situation is predominantly residential. The town wants to protect its residential neighborhoods and ensure that the residents of their city are keeping in line with the city's housing codes.

Over the past year, Watertown officials have been debating a law known as the "roommate law." This law essentially bans Watertown homes in residential neighborhoods from harboring non-family roommates; the goal being to eliminate the chance of boarding homes or other types of housing that would run afoul of the city's real estate code.

The law has been controversial, as the wording seems to make it far more encompassing than it needs to be. As a result, Watertown officials have been working up new guidelines for the roommate law to better distinguish what a "family" is (according to the law), what constitutes a "boarding home" and what makes up a "family dwelling."

Watertown is obviously a very different place than New York City. Obviously, one dwarfs the other in terms of population; but there are also different city laws in effect in each place. Zoning and tenant laws need to be obeyed by both renters and landlords (or the owners or board in control of the building). Sometimes these laws can be confusing, or it may not make sense how a certain law applies to your unique set of circumstances. In these scenarios, a behooves a tenant or building manager to consult an experienced real estate advisor so they know how to handle their situation.

Source: YNN, "Watertown Planning Board moves along with roommate law," July 9, 2013