Mini-dorms face stiff crackdown

Posted: January 20th, 2017 | College Area, Communities, Features, News, Top Stories | No Comments

By Doug Curlee | Editor at Large

College area residents say enough is enough

Longtime residents of the neighborhoods around San Diego State University are losing their communities to the never-ending need for some sort of housing for SDSU students.

Right now, there are more than 800 so-called “mini-dorms” in the College area, and there are fears that these makeshift housing options will spread to other communities, like Del Cerro, San Carlos, Grantville and Allied Gardens.

There have been measures in the past that residents like Rhea Kuhlman hoped would stem the tide of homes being converted to high-occupancy, multi-bedroom houses for students willing to jam into them. Those measures have been less than a roaring success.

Last November, the San Diego City Council drastically stiffened the laws regarding how many people could live in one house.

“It’s a step in the right direction” said Kuhlman, who’s been in the lead of this fight for decades.

“What we really needed all along is more on-campus housing – more living space created by the university. The school is planning to build more, but that’s a slow process.”

Many of the mini-dorms house 10 or more people living in tiny, cramped bedrooms, eating when and where they could, all in an effort to avoid the high costs of living on campus. That assumes there would be on-campus housing available, which there usually isn’t.

If it were available, the average cost of on-campus housing is set at $15,826 for on-campus room and board for in-state students, jumping up to $18,244 a year for out-of-state students.

The appeal of much cheaper mini-dorms becomes immediately apparent.

Mini-dorms, like this one in the College Area, are a cheaper housing alternative for SDSU students but are parking and noise nuisances to the neighborhoods they pop up in. (Photo by Doug Curlee)

To compound the issue, the student population at SDSU is growing. For two years in a row, the college received more than 83,000 undergraduate applications.

This is good news for SDSU, which is now ranked 74th among public universities and 146th overall in U.S. News & World Report’s America’s Best Colleges list due to high application levels and high graduation and continuation rates.

And while SDSU students are excelling academically, it is also in the nature of college students to try to enjoy life as much as they can while going to school.

Unfortunately, that enjoyment all too often involves parties than can be loud and obnoxious, going on at all hours of the evening and night, resulting in mornings with beer cans, wine bottles, and the occasional unconscious partygoer littering the neighbors’ lawns the next morning.

This doesn’t even mention the near-gridlock on parking places, with cars parked on lawns, driveways, and anyplace else they can be jammed in.

Here is the city’s latest effort at a solution— a solution the city of San Diego, through code enforcement officers and San Diego police officers, will have to try to enforce.

A maximum of six bedrooms for houses on lots larger than 10,000 square feet.

A maximum of five bedrooms on lots smaller than 10,000 square feet.

Parking spots, except for driveways, would have to be located at least 30 feet away from the front of a property.

The hammer is the big increase in fines for violating the new laws.

What used to be a $2,500-a-day fine will now be $10,000 a day.

That might get the attention of people who own the mini-dorms.

But renters and landlord groups say this is overkill — that it really does nothing to alleviate the problems of a college without the means to house students who need it.

It remains to be seen just how effective enforcement will be.

The city has very few code enforcement officers, and their days are already full of other violations to be remedied.

The Police Department can and will handle the rowdy party aspects, and write parking citations, but code enforcement is a little outside their line of work.

The 800-plus mini dorms now existing will very likely be grandfathered in, although some may have to downsize considerably.

It’s another effort to solve a problem some say cannot be solved.

—Doug Curlee is Editor at Large. Reach him at

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