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Students face eviction from Turtle Creek

Maddie Hanna | Wednesday, October 26, 2005

In the first visible legal result of last summer’s controversial disorderly house ordinance amendment, six Notre Dame students returned from fall break last weekend to find eviction notices waiting for them at their homes in Turtle Creek Apartments.

The six residents of three Turtle Creek apartments are now fighting a court battle after hosting parties the weekend of Sept. 9-10 where the Indiana State Excise Police issued about 100 underage drinking citations, South Bend Assistant City Attorney Ann-Carol Nash said Tuesday.

The city sent the students notices to abate about a week after the citations “as a confirmation that alcohol-related violations of state law had taken place,” Nash said.

The eviction notices, filed in court Oct. 21, were sent by Turtle Creek Management, Nash said.

Judy Stowell, director of communications for Turtle Creek, declined to comment on the situation Tuesday.

“Turtle Creek Management cannot comment on pending legal actions,” she said. “It’s a company policy.”

One of the students facing eviction told The Observer Tuesday he was advised by his attorney not to comment until discussions with Turtle Creek attorneys have been completed. The Observer was unable to contact the other students Tuesday.

Nash declined to give a timetable of the legal proceedings.

For student body president Dave Baron, it’s difficult to watch the evictions unfold.

“I was extremely disappointed,” said Baron, who fought the amendment during the summer along with a small group of student government representatives. “But [eviction] is something I had foreseen as being encouraged as the resolution was passed.”

The amendment, passed by the South Bend Common Council on July 25, tacked on a list of alcohol-related violations to the current list of activities prohibited by the city’s disorderly house ordinance – and allows the city to send tenants a notice to abate after just one noise violation, while the previous ordinance required three.

If prohibited activities reoccur after the first notice, the amendment gives the city the ability to file a civil suit against the tenants and landlord resulting in fines anywhere from $250 to $2,500.

But landlords do not face city fines if they evict the tenants within 30 days of receiving the notice to abate – a clause that initially bothered Baron, who called the situation faced by the six students “unfair.”

“One single offense should not be grounds for eviction,” Baron said. “If the city’s going to send a notice to abate, they should allow for some sort of abate.”

Nash stuck firmly by the amendment and its application.

“I don’t mean any disrespect to Dave Baron … but the assumption that you should have an extra warning because you broke the law one time is not something most people will sympathize with,” she said.

If she were a landlord, Nash said she would have acted in the same way as the Turtle Creek owners.

“I think it’s an appropriate thing to do,” she said. “I think anytime a tenant violates the terms, it’s appropriate to file an eviction for breaking the legal terms of the lease.”

Any violation of state, local or federal law constitutes a breach of the lease and can be grounds for termination of the lease, or eviction, Nash said.

Nash said the purpose of a notice to abate was to inform Turtle Creek Management that a tenant had engaged in illegal activity, since the owners were presumably not present during the incident.

“That tenant already knew,” she said. “They don’t need to be told that they committed that activity. They did it.”

Baron disagreed with Nash’s reasoning as to the purpose of the notice to abate.

“I think that the city did more than inform the landlords of prohibited behavior. It actively encouraged eviction,” he said.

Baron said student government would follow several courses of action on the six students’ behalf, including continuing discussion with the city and Common Council, attempting to coordinate legal defense for the students and seeking help from the Notre Dame administration.

But Associate Vice President for Residence Life Bill Kirk on Tuesday echoed statements he made in August about the University’s distance from this type of proceedings facing its students.

“Civil action lawsuits – we’re typically not involved in those kinds of cases,” Kirk said, adding he doesn’t expect these particular cases to be any different.

“I learned about [the eviction proceedings] from the news,” Kirk said. “I don’t even know the names of the students who were supposedly evicted.”

Baron said the students facing eviction should be helped by the University and encouraged to change their behavior, like students who run into trouble in the dorms.

“This is an event where members of the Notre Dame family are practically being put out of the street,” he said. “In some respects, it’s the ultimate punishment.”

Not only do the evictions show that students will not receive warning, Baron said, but they also contradict statements made by city officials several months ago.

“During the summer, and when this ordinance was talked about [in September] at COR [Council of Representatives], it was assured by city officials that this ordinance wasn’t targeting students, that it applied to everyone,” Baron said. “It’s pretty obvious it is [targeting students] … The bust of the parties on Sept. 10 was not due to complaints. It was the activity of a proactive task force that went into a known area of student partying.”

And known it is. While Nash said she couldn’t rank Turtle Creek as more or less problematic than other apartment complexes, she described its reputation as a hotbed for parties, disorder and illegal activity.

“My understanding, from reading The Observer and talking with neighbors … [is that] it has in past years been considered a place where anything goes,” Nash said. “The new owners [who took over the complex last spring] don’t want to seem to have that reputation, which is to their credit.”

But what Nash said may be to the owners’ credit may also lead to their business downfall, Baron said.

“[Students will be] more reluctant to take out apartments in Turtle Creek,” he said.