Somerville ordinance requires students to report addresses to university

Houses on Capen Street behind Carmichael Hall on Wednesday, Sept. 9. Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily

Tufts students living off-campus must provide their local addresses to the university on Student Information Services (SIS) in compliance with a City of Somerville ordinance that went into effect on Sept. 1.

The Ordinance Regulating University Accountability, passed by the Somerville Board of Aldermen in January, requires Tufts to report various details about students — including students’ status, expected graduation date and their local address — to the city, Director of Community Relations Barbara Rubel wrote via Director of Public Relations Kim Thurler. No students will be identified in the information reported to the city from the university.

According to Rubel, the limited information provided by the school to city code enforcers means that students cannot invoke the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), through which individuals can claim certain privacy rights about their education records. 

“The City of Somerville has the power to enforce all local laws and ordinances,” Rubel said. “We expect that city officials would direct concerns about over-occupancy to the property landlord, who could then take steps with the occupants.”

This ordinance was passed to enforce a long-standing zoning ordinance that prevents more than four unrelated adults from sharing an apartment, the Daily reported on March 3.

City officials noted that health and safety is their primary concern in passing this ordinance, Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon told the Daily in an email via Thurler.

“For reasons of health and safety, it’s very important that students live in housing that complies with local ordinances,” McMahon said.

Students subscribed to the City of Medford‘s mailing list have also been receiving emails about city-wide property inspections.

According to a July 30 email sent by Captain Barry Clemente to subscribers of the City of Medford mailing list, a city-wide property inspection program is being conducted by Vision Government Solutions of Northborough, Mass., as required by the Medford Department of Revenue. The firm was hired to comply with city zoning ordinances.

Somerville and Medford’s request for student information is consistent with what the City of Boston has requested universities to provide in past years, Rubel said. Both Tufts and Harvard were requested to comply with this request.

The university and student leaders have taken steps over the last year to prepare students for the zoning ordinance, McMahon said.

“The Office of Residential Life and Learning [ResLife], the Community Relations Office and the Sophomore Class Council provided information to sophomores looking for apartments off-campus at open meetings last fall, [and] that information included discussion of zoning regulations,” McMahon said. “There will again be an off-campus housing fair for sophomores during Parents’ Weekend.”

Students currently living in illegal housing situations should seek appropriately zoned housing, according to McMahon.

Director of ResLife Yolanda King said her office will do its best to help students in these situations, but there are no guarantees that they will be able to be placed in on-campus housing.

Last year a small number of students requested to live on campus due to issues with their off-campus housing and the Residential Life office was able to find housing for those individuals,” King said. “We will always do our best to help, but we cannot guarantee that we will be able to provide such housing.”

Senior Albert Wang said a few of his friends had undergone off-campus inspections and had to find new housing options during their junior year.

“I lived off campus my junior year with three other people in Medford,” Wang said. “It wasn’t until about a month or two in that we realized that the law in Medford stated that the ordinance said you could only live with two other housemates.”

Wang said he wishes Tufts or the landlord had told him about the law before he had signed his lease.

Editor’s note: A previous headline this story incorrectly reported that the City of Somerville ordinance overrides FERPA. It does not; FERPA still protects education records. We apologize for the error.