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Off-campus ordinance stirs controversy

Maddie Hanna | Friday, August 26, 2005

Party on, students, but don’t get too loud, serve minors alcohol, sell beer from a keg or invite an unusually large number of your closest friends.

You might just lose your home.

That seems to be the message behind the disorderly house ordinance amendment passed by the South Bend Common Council on July 25, a change impacting Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students living off-campus in South Bend.

The revised ordinance allows the city of South Bend to send a notice to abate the gathering to both tenants and the landlord after “the first incidence of a loud and raucous noise violation,” according to a pamphlet released by the City Attorney’s Office. Previously, the disorderly house ordinance allowed for three reported noise violations before the City could send a notice.

After the first notice, if the City receives no response and the prohibited activities reoccur, it can file a civil suit against the tenants and landlord resulting in fines anywhere from $250 to $2,500.

But if the landlord evicts the offending tenants within 30 days of the “receipt of notice of the prohibited conduct,” the charges against him will be dropped.

“Everyone knows what’s illegal here. Everyone knows what causes a disturbance. That’s not news,” Assistant City Attorney Ann-Carol Nash said. “What’s news is the possibility of eviction.”

Council member Ann Puzzello said the amendment was a result of a year of meetings with disgruntled residents desperate to curtail out-of-control student parties.

“When things get loud, it’s a real problem for the neighbors,” Puzzello said. “The huge parties are very dangerous and just not a good situation.”

Student body president Dave Baron says he understands why some residents have been angry.

“When what you see of students is the worst side, you can probably get a wrong impression of student life,” he said. But he believes different measures could have been taken.

“The whole situation of being a good neighbor is good communication,” Baron said. “We worried that because [the amendment] was being done during the summer, there couldn’t be communication.”

Both Puzzello and Nash emphatically shook their heads “no” when asked if the amendment was designed to slip through during the summer in attempts to avert student uproar.

“I didn’t think of it until a couple of students brought it up,” Puzzello said, referring to the timing. “I’m perfectly happy to talk to anyone about it, I’m not trying to hide anything. It applies to anyone in the city.”

Some students are skeptical. Pat Knapp and Jim Grace, both members of the Student Senate who stayed in South Bend for the summer, attended the July 25 meeting along with about 10 other Notre Dame students.

“After looking over the bill, I found that none of the ‘prohibited conduct’ was not already illegal,” Grace said. “The parts that definitely bothered me were the final note about eviction as a way to alleviate the fine and the fact most of this occurred when students are home for the summer.”

Knapp too said he felt the timing was “deliberate.”

“But South Bend residents had legit complaints – students vandalizing property, urinating on homes, etc.,” he said. “You couldn’t really argue with it.”

Nash said communication alone wasn’t enough to solve the problem.

“I think for the most part, [communication] is effective, and most people don’t want to create a disturbance,” she said. “But we still come upon parties with hundreds of people a few feet away from other houses. If you want to have a party, please do. But you have to think about where you’re doing it and under what circumstances.”

Students aren’t the only ones upset. Landlords like Mark Kramer fought the amendment during the discussion period and now plan to fight if and when lawsuits arise.

“I’m not sure how the city thinks they’re able to hold landlords responsible for tenants’ behavior,” said Kramer, who runs Kramer Properties – formerly Domus – and rents to about 300 Notre Dame students within 10 blocks of campus.

“Besides that,” he continued, “I think the whole ordinance is targeting Notre Dame students. I think it’s awfully suspicious that they brought this ordinance to pass while all the students were gone for the summer.”

Kramer, who said he has increased communication with his tenants and is planning a Sept. 7 barbecue for residents and students, fears neighbors calling the police unnecessarily.

He has never evicted anyone.

“And I don’t intend to start now,” he said. “No intentions.”

Kramer said his attorney, whose name he would not disclose, considers the ordinance “not enforceable” and “not constitutional.”

He believes the main problem is students living in properties located in single-family zoning, which legally only allows two unrelated parties to live together. Kramer, who only rents properties to students in multi-family-one zoning, said residents in single-family zoning are the ones raising complaints.

“On St. Peter’s Street, which is zoned properly, we don’t get complaints,” Kramer said. “I think the city needs to concentrate their efforts to resolve this. They say you can’t prove it. But when you see seven cars from different states [always parked outside], it’s pretty obvious.”

The University has “no cause to be involved” in an eviction lawsuit for one of its students, said Bill Kirk, Associate Vice President for Residence Life.

“I’m hopeful that it’s something students will take note of, abide by the law, not be subject to the sanctions,” Kirk said, explaining that civil violations were handled by the city of South Bend. “We want students to work to be good neighbors.”

Nash said she thought there wasn’t as much of a problem in South Bend as in other towns surrounding major universities.

“I think most people who live near Notre Dame students like Notre Dame,” Nash said. “South Bend benefits a great deal from having Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s, Bethel, IU-SB and other schools in the community. We want the positive relationships to continue.”

Knapp said he felt “tension” between students and residents at the July 25 meeting.

“One man who obviously had a bone to pick accused students of being wealthy and fornicating,” he said. “I’ve never felt so complimented. If I was wealthy and fornicating, my life would be just great. I’m single, and I work two jobs.”

The number of students renting properties off-campus has been slowly but steadily increasing, potentially contributing to the problem. In the past five years, students living off-campus increased from 17 to 19 percent, according to the 2004 Office of Institutional Research FactBook. From 1996 to 2003, the number of undergraduate students living off-campus increased from 1,313 to 1,573.

It’s hard to predict the impact of the amendment for today’s approximately 1,600 off-campus students. Off-campus council president Matt Wormington said he thought it would probably depend on the police officers involved.

“We don’t think it’s going to be anything too bad, as long as people keep it under control,” he said.

The five seniors living at 613 St. Peter’s Street who attended Monday’s Off Campus Fair said they were aware of the amendment to the ordinance. But they said it wouldn’t change their social agendas.

“Not cool,” senior Mike Scully said.

Senior Mike Tallarico agreed.

“There’s probably going to be more [parties] out of anger,” he said.