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TC, Castle Point warn residents differently

Eileen Duffy and Becky Hogan | Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Since an amendment to the South Bend disorderly house ordinance passed in the summer of 2005, designed to crack down on off-campus housing violations, some apartment complexes have changed their policies regarding eviction of residents.

Before the ordinance was amended, tenants were allowed three reported noise violations before the city of South Bend could send them a notice to abate. Now, the ordinance allows the city to send a notice to abate after just one reported noise violation.

The city also sends a notice to abate to area landlords, who have mixed reactions to this stipulation in particular: if the noise violation reoccurs, both the landlord and the tenants get fined – unless the landlord evicts the tenants within 30 days of the receipt of notice of the prohibited conduct.

Francie Schmuhl, community manager of Turtle Creek Apartments, said once Turtle Creek receives a notice from the city that someone has received a letter of abatement, its legal team then sends a letter to the resident.

Since the 86-citation raid at Turtle Creek on Sept. 1, Schmuhl said there have been no violations and no evictions at the apartment complex.

At Castle Point, the enforcement is different. Because the Castle Point Apartments are outside the South Bend city limit and therefore not under its ordinances, property manager Judy Logan deals with housing violations in her own way.

“I don’t think [the South Bend disorderly house ordinance] is fair,” Logan said. “I think people should be put on notice, especially if they’re not harming another human being. Just a gathering of people for a party does not.”

At Castle Point, she first sends a letter of warning to the apartment residents if a neighbor or a night watchman brings a situation to her attention.

“If I have to write a second letter of warning, then that letter goes to the co-signer the second time, because they’re responsible for what occurs to that apartment also, so I let them know,” Logan said. “For students, more often than not it’s their parents. And that, more often than not, nips it in the bud.”

Logan said the third letter sent to a disruptive Castle Point resident asks them to leave.

Logan said she has not had to evict anybody for a “partying type” of violation this year.

Ann-Carol Nash, assistant city attorney for South Bend, said there’s often confusion surrounding the disorderly house ordinance.

“If conduct which is prohibited by the ordinance takes place and is verified by the police department, then I send a notice to abate to the occupant and the owner,” she said.

At the first offense, she said, the decision to evict is left up to the landlord.

“I think there are some misconceptions [about the disorderly housing ordinance],” she said. “The landlord doesn’t have to evict tenants, but [the landlord] may be taking a risk if the offense is repeated.”

Nash said once a student repeatedly violates the disorderly house ordinance, the city has the option to file a lawsuit against both the landlord and the resident, asking the court to impose a monetary fine on both parties.

“I really haven’t had to file any lawsuits [this semester], although I have sent letters to abate,” Nash said. “I’ve been pleased I haven’t had a lot of repeat actions [by students].”

For Schmuhl, the most common student offenses include failing to make payments on rent and utilities and violating the disorderly house ordinance.

“Ever since this school year, I believe that I have the best students living here,” she said. “We have had no serious problems.”

Schmuhl said she believes Turtle Creek’s policy of encouraging “a community environment built on principles of mutual respect,” in combination with the South Bend ordinance, allow residents to quietly enjoy their homes.

“This has always been our policy and I would anticipate that other housing organizations, including other managers, the city of South Bend and even the University, would have the same expectations of their residents” Schmuhl said.