It was around 9:30 in the morning when Jamie Durfee received a worrying email from her landlord. She was getting ready to leave her home, a casita behind a house on Don Cubero Avenue, for her job as a recruiter at Descartes Labs—a home she might have to move out of due to an obscure line in the city’s building code.
The email contained a notice of code violation from the city attorney and was passed along by Mariel Nanasi, a local energy activist and the owner of the property.
“As you are aware,” the email reads in part, “this Code Section provides that a property owner may ‘rent both the principal dwelling unit and the accessory dwelling unit to the same lessee, however, no separate subletting of either unit is allowed.’”
Because Durfee lives on one unit and two other, unrelated people live in the other, and all three names are on a lease with Nanasi, the city argues that the casita and the main house are rented by separate individuals. That, officials say, violates the city code.
“The only thing I’m going to say is that we believe we’re acting lawfully,” Nanasi tells SFR when asked about her case on Wednesday.
Durfee says she was taken aback by the rule, and wasn’t even aware it existed until she read an op-ed in the Santa Fe New Mexican last September. City Attorney Erin McSherry says Durfee’s case is the first of its kind that she’s aware of.
There isn’t any system in place to ensure compliance, according to McSherry, who tells SFR the only reason the issue crossed her desk was a petition with 13 signatures of Don Cubero residents; however, several neighbors who signed the petition tell SFR they did not realize what they were signing.
“I signed it by accident,” says John Vreneiser, who lives next door to Durfee. “I thought it was about the number of cars parked on the street.”
Bobbie Fleming, who lives across the street, says not all neighbors were upset with Durfee’s rental. “There was only one neighbor,” Fleming says. “They think it’s their business.”
In truth, according to a record of complaints filed with the city attorney’s office and obtained by SFR, three people complained before the petition arrived—two living in one home and one living in another.
Durfee acknowledges some of her neighbors took issue with parking. One, Karen Peterson, backed a car into Durfee’s while she was away for the weekend, damaging her bumper. Durfee called the police, and Peterson admitted to doing so, according to a police report filed after the incident. The report says that Peterson was frustrated that Durfee was parked in the street in front of her house, and adds that the responding officer informed her that street parking is legal and Durfee was within her rights.
Neither Peterson or other residents who filed complaints could be reached for comment by SFR.
Fleming adds that she’s sympathetic to Durfee’s situation, especially considering the tight housing market Santa Fe is experiencing. It’s a sentiment that’s broadly shared.
“I’ll be pretty candid,” Durfee says. “This current setup is pretty phenomenal and affordable.”
She says rent at her previous apartment was $700 when she left, but has skyrocketed to $1,600 a month since.
“I don’t even have the option of moving back to my old place,” Durfee tells SFR.
“It doesn’t sound like this code is helping the housing crisis,” she says.
“How is it that in the midst of the worst rental housing market in Santa Fe’s history, the City is arbitrarily removing rental housing from the market?” Durfee wrote on her Facebook wall shortly after receiving the email from Nanasi.
She added that her case is particularly frustrating considering her day job involves trying to entice professionals to move to Santa Fe.
“It’s quite the irony,” Durfee says, that she’s touting the amazing things about Santa Fe while her own living situation is so perilous. “It’s really discouraging to me, having lived here for so long, and to see what’s happening to the housing market.”
While she’s hopeful that the situation can be resolved without needing to move out, she’s already started a new housing hunt and has no plans to abandon Santa Fe.
“I’m not going to be discouraged,” she says.