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Combatting Stealth Dorms

Small picture of trash cans outside a stealth dorm

Read the full position paper, currently being considered for adoption by the Austin Neighborhood Council.

See examples of stealth dorms in our neighborhood.

See a map of the more than 50 stealth dorms in Northfield.

Presentation delivered to the Austin Neighborhood Council on May 25, 2011

The Northfield Neighborhood Association and other Central Austin neighborhoods have been plagued for the last decade by the construction and rental of "Stealth Dorms." These structures are permitted as "Single Family" homes, but they are never intended for single family use. Instead, they are essentially designed to be dormitories, rented out by the room. Legally, 6 unrelated adults are allowed to live in them, but most actually exceed the legal limit.

Having so many unrelated people on one "single-family" property creates a parking problem. It creates a traffic problem. It creates a trash problem. It creates a noise problem. It creates a strain on infrastructure designed for single-family occupancy. And it creates a safety hazard for both the residents of the stealth dorm as well as surrounding neighbors.

Northfield has over 50 such structures as of early 2011, and more are on the way. Now that the economy is beginning to improve, we are once again seeing the wholesale removal of existing housing stock to build these de facto dormitories.

Stealth dorms are causing severe problems in Central Austin neighborhoods, and we want to work with the city to find solutions to these problems. We are asking for:

  • Allowing neighborhoods to "opt in" to regulations imposing more restrictive occupancy limits. (Other Texas cities are very restrictive, some limiting the cohabitation of unrelated adults to 2 per property. We think that 4 unrelated adults per Single-Family zoned properties is quite reasonable.)
  • A rental-registration program for single-family rental properties like the program currently being proposed for multi-family properties.
  • We would also like to work with the city to create safety regulations and annual safety inspections for all Single-Family zoned rental properties (comparable to those that already exist for MF-zoned properties).

We are very much in favor of creating affordable housing in central Austin. We actively support initiatives to create more housing density in our neighborhood. But we want that density to come in the form of safe, regulated multi-family structures -- not stealth dorms.


Photo 1: Over-crowded stealth dorms lead to overflowing trash, which leads to odors, visual pollution, and food for pests and vermin.

Photo 2: Stealth dorms are completely out of character with the existing housing in the neighborhood.

Photo 3: Stealth dorms create parking and traffic nightmares.

Photo 4: Stealth dorms create impervious cover that adds to water runoff and flooding.

Photo 5: Overflowing trash is unsightly, unsafe, and creates hazards for neighborhood children.


Photo 6: Like dominoes, stealth dorms take over neighborhood blocks. This small house in the middle no longer exists -- it has been replaced with yet another stealth dorm.

Photo 7: Noise, trash, and safety hazards make stealth dorms very bad neighbors.

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