Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone paid a visit to the Amherst Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday to educate them about "Nuisance House" enforcement -- an important component of Town Manager John Musante's Safe & Healthy Neighborhoods initiative.
First off the Chief dispelled the myth that police officers drive around in their patrol cars looking for parties. "We need to have to have a complainant, a valid complainant to dispatch an officer to a disturbance".
Usually easy to find in the form of a neighbor losing the peaceful enjoyment of their home.
The Chief reports that APD responds to between 900 and 1,200 quality of life (noise/nuisance) complaints annually, with only a minority resulting in action by the responding officers, i.e. a $300 ticket or arrest for TBL violation (Town By Law).
But that percentage is going up: In the most recent year about 20% of the overall responses resulted in tickets or arrests, whereas the previous year it was only 14%.
A lot depends on "cooperation at the door". Meaning when officers first arrive do the responsible tenants comply with requests to tone down the rowdy behavior. If not, and other infractions besides noise -- underage drinking, large crowds, haphazard parking of cars, littering -- are disrupting the neighborhood, then "Nuisance House" tickets are issued, or arrests made.
The Zoning Board of Appeals is considering tying a Special Permit (to expand the rental capacity of a house, almost always made by an absentee landlord) to "conditions" that must be met in an ongoing way.
And becoming a "nuisance house" would violate a condition, and bring with it the loss of that Special Permit.
The house would then revert back to the original capacity of only 4 unrelated tenants, a major loss of rental revenue.
Amherst building commissioner Rob Morra recently won a major victory defending the town's no more than 4 unrelated tenants in a one family dwelling bylaw. Prominent landlord Grandonico Properties, LLC packed students into rental property on Hobart Lane, including illegally converting substandard basements into bedrooms and then tried to blame it on the student occupants.
Simply fining the noisy party house participants has not solved the problem. Chief Livingstone stated no landlord has been fined yet since it takes a third nuisance house ticket to trip that regulation, but he declared confidently "It's going to happen this Spring."
Currently two locations on Phillips Street have two nuisance house tickets each.
A dozen years ago when Amherst led the charge on banning smoking in the workplace, including bars, fines alone (issued to the bar, not the patron) had minimal impact. Only when faced with loss of their liquor license did barowners learn the value of compliance.
Revoke a Special Permit from a slumlord for too many noise violations, thereby instantly cutting their revenues in half, and that party house will quickly go quiet. One way or the other ...