Live and let live

By Thomas Moore

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It’s a simple fact that we live in a world full of limitations. Whether we like them or not, they are justified in their existence because they draw up boundaries to protect us from ourselves and from others. Some of these limitations are natural, like our bodies’ biological rejection to excess. The typical college student can relate to this either by experience or hearsay; the impressive projectile vomiting of an alcohol enthusiast is a great example of your body letting you know “Hey buddy, you went beyond your limit.”

So if you drink too much booze at the bars or too much milk during a “gallon challenge,” we see that limitations aren’t always bad (for our own health and the hygiene of our unfortunate projectile targets). Gross humor aside, we can’t forget limitations that are created by man outside of the natural world. Speed limits and elevator capacities are issued by us with the safety and well-being of others in mind.

Surprisingly, speed limits aren’t posted just to be broken. Madison, Wis., car accident lawyers of Habush Habush & Rottier explain that speed limits are “expertly calculated in an effort to try to reduce the number of car crashes in that area.”

In essence, when we break the limitations for speed in a vehicle, we are more likely to crash – injuring or killing ourselves and/or others. In a similar way, when we disobey an elevator’s posted capacity of 1,500 pounds by cramming 20 people into the express elevator in the W.E.B. Du Bois Library, we run the risk of making the 6:00 p.m. news in a “tragic elevator accident.”

But every once in a while, there’s a limitation that just doesn’t make sense. I’ll cut to the chase: The Amherst housing bylaw sets a legal limit of no more than four unrelated people in any residence without the owners of the building acquiring a permit from the town. Now, many of you may not know this, or already do but actively ignore it, but according to this bylaw, you can’t live with more than three of your friends in a single house.

Why, you might ask? According to Diane Lederman in an article which appeared recently in The Republican, “The bylaw was adopted in the mid-1960s to prevent students from taking over houses, and as a way to address large, unruly parties.”

While I’ll give you that having a huge party at a residence can be a nuisance, I doubt that most parties that fall into this category consist of solely house members. When was the last time you heard of a legendary weekend ripper whose exhaustive guest list consisted of six guys living together on Meadow Street? Most “unruly” parties serve a much greater proportion of outside guests than the occupants of the house itself. The argument that limiting the amount of residents in a house will numb the celebratory atmosphere of young college adults holds no water.

The housing bylaw causes more harm than it attempts to remedy. Let’s talk about its economic nuisance. Most college students who are already in debt from their academic endeavors at UMass can’t afford the wildly high rent costs for on-campus or off-campus housing on their own. Allowing more people to live in a single residence reduces the cost of rent. If it’s a matter of spreading out tenants for local housing businesses, I don’t understand why. Puffton Village and the Townehouse of Amherst Apartments will never lack a waiting list for housing applications from the thousands of students seeking a residence every year.

By allowing more students to live together, Amherst would promote the growth of a closer community for itself. There’s something about fighting for the morning shower, arguing for a communist food plan and pranking the newest member of the house with the old trick of replacing the deodorant in their stick with cream cheese that just brings people together. More seriously, though, it’s through living together that the greatest bonds of friendship are created. A truly caring community, like one that can arise from a group of roommates, is vital to this day and age where depression rates have increased to 9.5 percent among Americans.

Look, speed limits and elevator capacities are inconvenient, but I’ll do my best to follow them because they’re reasonable. What’s unreasonable is placing a limit on how many unrelated people can live in a house, even when that house is up to code to occupy more. In fact, I’ll have to take it beyond “unreasonable” and agree with the simultaneous words of University of Massachusetts juniors Sarah Moltzen, Amresa Beale and Megan O’Hare when asked their feelings: “It’s stupid.”

Thomas Moore is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]