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Student evictions raise questions

Maddie Hanna | Monday, October 31, 2005

Turtle Creek Management’s recent decision to evict six Notre Dame students from their apartments has left local landlords and property managers torn, and students questioning the application of last summer’s amendment to the disorderly house ordinance responsible for the evictions.

“I think [Turtle Creek] made a major mistake,” said Mark Kramer, owner of Kramer Properties. “First of all, it was a first offense. The letter to abate is just a warning letter to a landlord. … If [students are] running a crack house, I’d evict them. Or not paying their rent. It would have to be pretty hard stuff. I’m not going to evict them for a party.”

The Observer was unable to reach Turtle Creek Management Sunday. After the eviction notices were received last week, Turtle Creek director of communications Judy Stowell declined to comment on pending legal actions, citing company policy.

The six students received letters to abate from the city of South Bend shortly after Indiana State Excise Police officers busted parties at their three apartments the weekend of Sept. 9-10, citing about 100 minors for underage drinking.

Returning from fall break, the students found eviction notices at their apartments – an action taken by Turtle Creek Management that Kramer called a mistake, but other property managers deemed necessary.

“[The owners] have to follow the city ordinance so they don’t get in trouble,” Clover Ridge property manager Kristie Nozykowski said. “They’re doing the right thing. If I was fined by the city ordinance, I would evict, and just as quickly.”

Castle Point property manager Judy Logan echoed Nozykowski’s sentiments, referring to the amendment’s clause that drops fines against the landlord if he evicts the offending tenant.

“I don’t think it’s Turtle Creek’s decision. I think it’s the city’s decision,” Logan said. “[The owners] have no choice – they have to [evict] or they’re going to get in trouble. It’s a domino effect.”

A domino effect that starts with students. Senior Ray Denis, who lives in East Race Condos, said he now fears the amendment’s backlash is spreading.

“At first I thought, ‘Could this happen to me?'” Denis said. “You just don’t have parties [now]. It’s not worth it. Getting evicted is not worth one night of fun.”

Logan said she understands the dilemma faced by students living off campus.

“Basically, [the amendment] says one strike and you’re out,” Logan said. “It’s really an unfortunate situation.”

The amendment, passed by the South Bend Common Council on July 25, added a string of alcohol violations to activities currently prohibited by the disorderly house ordinance and drops the number of noise violations required to send a notice to abate from three to one.

If the prohibited action reoccurs, the city can file a civil suit against both the tenants and the landlord, resulting in fines anywhere from $250 to $2,500.

But the amendment drops the fines against the landlord if he evicts the tenants within 30 days of receiving the notice to abate – a choice that puts the management in a tough situation.

Kramer, who rents about 50 houses to Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students throughout South Bend, has never evicted a tenant and said he would only do so under extreme circumstances.

If a tenant received a notice to abate, Kramer said he would send another letter to the tenant explaining that this action needed to stop and would then forward a copy of the letter to the South Bend city attorney to show that he was handling the issue.

Castle Point, which rents to about 200 Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students, is not within city limits and not subject to the new amendment, Logan said.

But if problems arise, she gives the offending tenant a warning, explaining that “obvious, disruptive behavior” is prohibited in the apartment lease.

“The second warning is firmer. The third warning is you have to move,” Logan said. “If I was in the city of South Bend, I couldn’t even give you a warning.”

Kramer said none of his tenants have received notices to abate, which he attributes to preemptive actions he took to make his tenants aware of the new regulations.

The Turtle Creek students are now involved in legal action in response to the eviction notices, filed in court Oct. 21, a move that troubled Logan.

“What’s going to be hard on these [students] – where are they going to go?” Logan said. “Because no one else is going to rent to them. Litigation goes on their record … You can’t rent to somebody who’s been evicted someplace.”

Going “peaceably” is always better both for the residents and the property manager, said Logan, who has evicted students in the past for disruptive behavior.

“But I always give fair warning,” she said. “But I think the city of South Bend and University has given fair warning [of the ordinance].”

Although students said they knew about the ordinance, the possibility of eviction seemed a distant and relatively unlikely possibility.

“It’s shocking, because … it’s like [Indiana State Excise Police] randomly picked six people, who didn’t do anything more than anybody else,” said junior Matt Whittington, who lives in Turtle Creek. “It’s kind of ridiculous.”

Whittington, whose close friends lived in Turtle Creek the past two years, said he never thought he’d see a situation like this – a situation where he said Excise officers showed up at back porch tailgates before the Michigan State football game and asked to join in drinking games, before asking to see everyone’s ID.

“It’s college. It’s going to happen,” Whittington said. “Underage drinking – it’s going to happen.”

But underage drinking subjects property managers to big liability issues, Logan said.

“It’s really an unfortunate situation,” she said.

Kegs are not allowed at Clover Ridge, said Nozykowski, who fines tenants $200 a day for every keg on site.

In Kramer’s eyes, underage drinking should not be the main concern of police. He said seven of his student tenants have reported car break-ins during the past three or four weeks.

“Where should the priority really be?” Kramer asked. “I don’t think we should be worrying about a little alcohol at a party after a football game.”

But it’s clear the police are worrying about that alcohol. And students are well aware of the enforcement.

“We’re more concerned about how strict things are now in general,” junior Becky Scholl-Maguire said. “I am less likely to go to Turtle Creek now than I was freshman year.”

Scholl-Maguire, who plans to move off-campus to Clover Ridge next year, said she was “a little concerned” about how the amendment is being enforced.

“Obviously we’re going to have parties and stuff,” she said.

Junior Chris Disbro, who plans to move to College Park next year – “It’s an Alumni [Hall] tradition” – said the evictions are causing him to more closely examine South Bend’s rules, to “find out what our rights are.”

College Park management did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Whatever happens in Turtle Creek’s future, students said they felt the evictions would be bad business for the apartment complex, a perennial party destination.

“There’s so many empty apartments because people can’t handle [the management] anymore.” Whittington said. “It’s a bad business move … My friends who want to move off next year, they see what’s going on.”

Denis agreed with Whittington about Turtle Creek’s decline.

“It’s a giant mess out there,” he said.

For Kramer, the new amendment is indicative of a problem that’s much bigger than alcohol.

“If you’re going to alienate students from the community, you’re making a major, major, major mistake,” Kramer said. “Notre Dame is the largest employer of our community. The students, parents and alumni spend millions and millions of dollars in our community. Where would we be without Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s?”