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Building Innovation is a collection of stories by 90.5 fm WESA reporters about the Pittsburgh region focusing on efficient government operation, infrastructure and transportation, innovative practices, energy and environment and neighborhoods and community.

Proposal Would Reform Student Housing Laws

State Rep. Susan Helm (R-Dauphin) said she believes many students throughout Pennsylvania experience unfair treatment under municipal laws.

Helm’s House Bill 809 would strike down municipal laws in the state that prohibit people from living somewhere based on their current status as a student.

“I don’t think anyone should be discriminated against,” she said, “so we’re hoping to pass a bill that students are no longer discriminated against, and that communities are proud of their students ... and want to have them there and understand that they have the right to live where they want to live, as long as they abide by the law.”

The bill stipulates that there may be no more than two tenants per bedroom and there must be sufficient parking for all vehicles registered to the address.

The legislation is necessary now more than ever, she said, due to the shifting definition of a student, with many people putting their education on hold while working to pay for their schooling.

“So a landlord gets a permit for this person to move in, they’re in compliance with the law because they are a student,” she said. “Then they have to work, and they’re not a student. Then they’re not in compliance. So that’s how this all started.”

Municipalities will still be able to regulate noise levels, parking and safety concerns, but it is unfair to single out students when addressing these problems, Helm said.

“I do know that ... young people like to party,” she said, “but again, is that because they’re a student or because they’re a young person? I mean, I think just as many non-students get in trouble because they party as students.”

Helm said she is open to suggestions to improve the legislation and has already heard a lot of feedback from supporters and opponents. What she initially perceived as "a very, very simple bill" turned out to be one of the most controversial pieces of legislation she's defended in her nine-year tenure, she said.

The Pennsylvania Municipal League does not support the bill, according to Director of Governmental Affairs Amy Sturges.

“It really needs to be up to the individual municipality, and that’s why we have local zoning in Pennsylvania, so that municipalities can put in place laws that make sense for their particular community,” Sturges said. “So it does need to stay at the local level.”

The bill is being considered in the House Local Government Committee.