The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Four is a crowd: living off campus hindered by the ‘brothel rule’

3 min read


Three’s company, and four’s a brothel, at least according to the city of Fredericksburg. Many students are aware of this law, dubbed the “brothel rule” reading that no more than three unrelated individuals may live together in town.

Virginia still harbors many outdated laws such as in Waynesboro, VA where it is “illegal for women to drive on Main Street” or in Richmond where it is illegal to flip a coin to decide who pays for dinner. Fredericksburg is no exception.

Debra Ward, the zoning officer of Fredericksburg, and representing the Board of Zoning Appeals dismissed the suspicion that this law was created to prevent brothels from forming in the area.

“The brothel rule is an urban legend,” she said.

However, she reiterated that a family dwelling cannot be inhabited by more than three unrelated boarders, and asserted that “it’s a zoning law” and is pertinent within the city limits of Fredericksburg.
Despite most students being aware of some sort of restraining law, there is a lot of ambiguity about the specifics. Kathryn Schmidt, a sophomore, recalled having some trouble when she first tried to look for an off campus residence.

“We didn’t even know if this was a situation in which realtors would purposefully overlook some details, or if we’d even be able to sign the lease in the first place,” she said.

As a result, some students have resorted to loopholes such as having three tenants on the lease, but more living in the house.

Sarah Williams is a junior living in the Idlewild Complex with three of her good friends. However, there was a time when the foursome thought they would never find a realtor or landlord willing to rent to college students, let alone four of them.

“Finally, after months of no luck searching for houses, Hannah and I walked into a realtor office and   this great lady went out of her   way to help us find a place,” she said.

However, the realtor was not aware that four young women would actually be cohabitating at that house.

Sophomore Jordan Kroll, also recalls facing adversity, and is perturbed with the city’s zoning law.
“No one we’ve spoken with regarding housing next year has been accommodating and most of them have been rude, stringing us along until better (non-student) tenants come along,” she said.

In the difficult economic conditions, and the particular high cost of living in the immediate area, it puts a lot of pressure on students at UMW that doesn’t exist for students at other universities.

Students who could have easily paid rent with four other roommates are now stretching to pay rent with only two other roommates.

“I have to say that Fredericksburg isn’t so much a college town as it is a town that happens to have a college,” Kroll said.

The animosity between the college students and community continues to stretch down towards the far end of Route 1.

“It’s a very family oriented neighborhood and the neighbors have told us point blank that they don’t like us there and they have had college kids kicked out before,” Williams said.

Although the “loophole” of omitting residents from the lease may seem like a viable option for many students, it is actually very dangerous. Despite creating an environment in which one or more housemates are not legally obligated to pay rent or contribute to utilities, if a realtor found out it could require legal action from the city, possibly leaving someone without a place to live.