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Leaders confront ordinance

Karen Langley | Thursday, February 9, 2006

The controversial South Bend Public Nuisance Ordinance – which caused some students to face fines and evictions – may be less intrusive and strict if some student government leaders have it their way.

Their Monday night meeting initiated their plan for their Feb. 27 visit to the South Bend Common Council, where they intend to appeal for consideration of a Student Senate resolution on the controversial amendment to South Bend’s Public Nuisance Ordinance.

Assistant City Attorney Ann-Carol Nash said Wednesday she would not support such an appeal.

The resolution requests the Council further amend the ordinance so that landlords are encouraged to evict disruptive tenants after the second, rather than the first, violation of the ordinance. As it stands, the ordinance suggests landlords undertake eviction proceedings as a defense against possible fines after a single notice to abate – a recommendation which is contrary to the spirit of a notice to abate, student body president Dave Baron said Tuesday.

“In our resolution, we ask that the ordinance be made consistent with the concept of a notice to abate,” he said.

Nash told The Observer that while she could not predict the Council’s reaction, she would not suggest the ordinance be changed.

“My question to the Council would be, ‘Do you want to tell people essentially it’s OK to break law on multiple occasions?'” she said. “That’s the kind of message it seems to send.”

The city’s logic in sending a notice to the landlord is that he or she did not plan to disrupt the neighborhood, Nash said.

“But the tenant did, and if tenant served alcohol to an 18-year-old, and the 18-year-old gets hurt as a result, people question what the city is doing.”

Such questioning is sure to occur if the ordinance is further amended to encourage eviction after two violations, she said.

“If everyone gets two or three bites of apple before they get evicted, knowing full well in advance there will be a problem, that tells the neighbors their comfort and quality of life doesn’t matter,” she said.

In hopes of persuading Nash and members of the Council otherwise, members of the Council of Representatives and the Student Senate Committee on Community Relations will attend the Feb. 27 meeting, along with any other student senators who choose to do so.

When the floor opens to the public at the meeting’s end, six yet-unnamed students will speak to the Council as part of an organized presentation. They will speak on topics including community relations initiatives, the six students who were evicted under the ordinance, perceived inconsistencies in the ordinance’s text and alternatives to eviction available to landlords.

“We’re not going to complain,” Baron said. “We’re not going in a combative role, but in a participatory role, which is something they want to see.”

Baron said he has not heard from the six evicted students recently.

“I know they were intending to move out, to campus or other apartments,” he said.

Student government is also reaching directly to the landlords through Josh Pasquesi, counselor to the president, who has been working with landlords at Turtle Creek, College Park, Lafayette Street, Clover Ridge and East Race Condos, Baron said.

“We just want to talk to landlords and let them know what students are thinking,” Baron said. “We want to let them know they don’t have to evict at the first violation.”

Landlords are encouraged to evict students by the clause of the amendment stating that after the notice to abate, a second violation on the premises will result in a fine ranging from $250 to $2,500. The amount of the fine is determined in part by the landlord’s efforts to ensure that another violation does not occur. Another key point, Baron said, is that the fine can be passed on from landlord to tenant.

“We’re not advocating breaking the law,” Baron said, “but there are degrees of offenses, from misdemeanors to felonies. There are degrees of law and degrees of penalty based on the offense.”

Baron expressed satisfaction that community relations has become a central issue in the current student body presidential campaigns, noting that only he and student body vice president Lizzi Shappell addressed the issue when campaigning for office last year.

“We have seen the frayed relations that exist and the potential for growth,” he said. “To see so many students come with plans … is a great sign of progress.”