University of Kentucky leaders said Tuesday that they plan to create an off-campus student services office to help manage concerns about the safety and density of rental homes.
The office could serve as a liaison between students and landlords as well as educate students about being responsible neighbors, said Victor Hazard, UK's dean of students, and Tom Harris, the university's vice president of external affairs.
They told a panel of the UK Board of Trustees on Tuesday that the director of that office also could bolster communication with neighborhood leaders, who are concerned about an explosion of large additions to rental houses around UK's campus that are increasing population density and changing neighborhoods.
There is no time line for such an office and no budget line for a position to create it yet.
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Even if it is created, it won't alleviate some of the problems that have cropped up in neighborhoods where the number of rental homes is growing quickly, Harris cautioned. Some of the issues surrounding rental housing must be handled by city safety inspections and the renovation permitting process, he said.
"This office and the university don't need to be doing code enforcement," he said.
Tensions among established residents in some of the neighborhoods around UK, landlords, students and city and university officials have been brewing over recent months.
The Urban County Council this month approved a six-month moratorium in the downtown area on construction of additions that are larger than 25 percent of the existing house.
That is aimed at temporarily curbing the increase in so-called "vinyl box" additions landlords have been building onto World-War II-era bungalows, ranch houses and small Cape Cod homes in the neighborhoods. Officials and neighborhood leaders hope to use the next six months to hammer out permanent solutions.
On Tuesday, the council's planning committee took several other related steps, including allowing Code Enforcement to use $100,000 in fines it collects each year to clean up additional violations such as excessive weeds, garbage and abandoned cars on the property.
Also, the committee asked the law department to help develop stiffer fines for repeat offenders who don't make repairs to their houses or clean up the property.
Another effort in the works is a Web site being developed by the city that would collect safety and inspection data from landlords who volunteer to have their properties reviewed. The Web site would include "seals of approval" for rental houses.
Harris said a new director of off-campus student services could supplement such an effort.
Other universities, including Ohio State University, have set up offices devoted to off-campus housing. Hazard said UK is in the process of learning more about them.
"I think it's a fairly urgent matter for us to pursue," Hazard said.