Mary Pat & District 14 IN THE NEWS

Bill would crack down on noisy parties

Talia Richman | June 12, 2015, 7:22AM
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On weekends, Nancy Charlow often looks out the window of her home in Charles Village and sees members of the fraternity house next door playing beer pong.

As the day goes on, "the boys get louder and the language gets fouler," Charlow said, and by nighttime, there's often a party with hundreds of people in the backyard. It's gets so loud sometimes that Charlow, 70, and her husband stay with friends in Annapolis for the weekend.

"It's just been a nightmare," Charlow said. "There needs to be a stronger law with more teeth to it than what's currently available to us."

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said she has spreadsheets full of these "problem addresses" near the Johns Hopkins University campus, which prompted her to introduce legislation June 1 addressing "neighborhood nuisances and unruly social events."

The bill, which will be reviewed at a Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee hearing at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, would allow police to issue citations at the scene of private events that disturb "the quiet enjoyment of others." 

"In many ways, this grew out of frustration locally about the efficiency of the existing nuisance law, and almost nationally, it grew out of efforts ... to reduce college-age drinking and related problems," Clarke said.

Under existing law, responding officers are required to write a detailed incident report regarding the disturbance and send it to the city Department of Housing and Community Development, where it is then reviewed before an environmental citation is sent to the property owner.

Giving police the ability to issue citations on the spot to the parties' hosts consolidates the lengthy process into one step, Clarke said.

"Writing a full incident report takes a lot of time for the officers, and the time they're usually responding to these parties — Friday and Saturday nights — are busy times for police departments," said Councilman Bill Henry, co-sponsor of the bill. "In the middle of running around to a lot of calls, asking them to do extensive amounts of paperwork was difficult."

The bill also would hold landlords, parents of minors and business owners liable.

Ben Frederick, a member of the Maryland Multi-Housing Association and president of Ben Frederick Realty, said the proposal is "inherently unfair."

"I can control the physical condition of a property, but not the behavior of the people in it," he said. "I don't have control over that kind of behavior. For the city to hold me responsible, that seems very unreasonable."

If the bill passes, citations would be classified as civil offenses amounting to $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for the second within a year.

"With the sanction being the equivalent of a speeding ticket, it's much easier to enforce," said David Jernigan, an associate professor in the Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Just like speeding tickets, which are for people driving in a dangerous way, this law is for people hosting a party in a dangerous way. People are still going to drive fast, people are still going to host parties, but this sets a speed limit."

Jernigan, who is part of the Maryland Collaborative to Reduce College Drinking and Related Problems, said social hosting laws like this one are among a list of "best practices" the initiative assembled.

"The evidence suggests that in the communities that have done this, young people are less likely to be drinking at a private party," he said. "Communities have found that it reduces the police calls for service related to these kind of parties, so yes, we believe this can make a difference."

The Baltimore Police Department came out in favor of the bill, according to a letter submitted to the council by director of government affairs Andrew Vetter, and the housing department deferred its position to the police.

"It creates another mechanism to utilize when confronted with parties or gatherings that are generally disturbing to the quiet enjoyment of the City's neighborhoods," Vetter's letter reads.

Hopkins is also supportive of the measure, according to director of media relations Tracey Reeves.

Residents agree a change is necessary.

"It's too complicated now," said Charles Village Civic Association President Sandy Sparks, who spent two years living next door to members of the Johns Hopkins lacrosse team. "Immediate remediation is necessary because a party is an immediate problem. If there were timely citations, perhaps the parties would never get off the ground because the threat of an immediate fine, I think, is a very good prevention."

Should the bill pass in the committee, Henry said it could reach the mayor's desk by June 15. 

"We recognize that the types of disturbances this legislation works to address is very important to many communities," Kevin Harris, the mayor's spokesman, wrote in a statement. "Our goal is to work with the council to ensure that the final bill is enforceable and effective."


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