Sunday, February 17, 2013

Party House Primer

Chief Livingstone
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.

Phillips Street

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 ...


Walter Graff said...

"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"

SO what if they did. Sad that this man has to defend good police practices. If this town let the police do their job properly, we'd see less 1000 people parties. And the police wouldn't be attacked with bottles and Molotov cocktails AFTER THE FACT as it is now.

Anonymous said...

I say hit the landlords with heavy fines. Then the crap would stop. Hitting the kids with fines hasn't worked. Try hitting the landlords.

Anonymous said...

This is all missing a major point. Despite having a "permit" revoked, who is going to evict the tenants? Massachusetts is a very very pro tenant state; evictions are never fast, often over a year.

Who is going to stop the LL from renting to a new group?

We need to govern behavior, not try to invoke rules of supremacy, with massive implementation and maintenance cost.

There certainly are landlords that are outrageously irresponsible and selfish, their behavior should be addressed without pause. But that doesn't mean that well behaved and conscientious LL,s should be burdened and punished by this incredibly intrusive proposal.

Anyone who has ever applied for a special permit in Amherst realizes the absolute glacial speed of town Hall.

For at leastvtwo years I have been very outspoken on the lawn parking that is ruining our town.

Lawn parking simply encourages other equally ugly behavior and display.

I truly believe that if lawn parking is properly addressed, there will be a marked improvement in how properties appear.

Drunken obnoxious behavior is not going to be curtailed by the government barging into property owners rights and activities.

Geez Louise!

John Edwards

Larry Kelley said...

It will be a complaint driven process.

The government will not come barging into anything without good reason.

Hey, they're from the government ... and they're here to help. Darn it!

Walter Graff said...

"Lawn parking simply encourages other equally ugly behavior and display. "

Part of the answer is what I've said before, quality of life enforcement. Crime fought from the bottom up must be addressed. It's worked to reduce overall crime in many small towns and big cities. Problem is the police can't do their job because they are underpowered and under the microscope.

Anonymous said...

This is like trying to swat a fly with a sledgehammer. What happens to the little old lady that rents her house out so she can pay for living in a retirement home if the permit get revoked? This could bankrupt people. Not everyone is a big landlord.

Larry Kelley said...

There will be exemptions. Gotta protect that "little old lady".

Anonymous said...

Exemptions? Oh, really? Do go on.

Larry Kelley said...

None for Cowardly Anon Nitwits, so you're outta luck.

Anonymous said...

I see that when someone calls your bluff on this the post does not appear. So much for Larry Kelley the crusader for truth.

Larry Kelley said...

So much for having my "bluff called" by a slumlord.

Obviously since profiteers like you are going to try to sabotage the rental regulations at the upcoming Town Meeting, town officials will cover the concern about "little old ladies" and yes, even folks in wheelchairs.

I'm also fairly certain that large, well run complexes like Puffton Village, Rolling Green, Mill Valley Estates, etc will be exempt as well.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about the other person but I am not a slumlord. I am however someone that owns several rental properties that could be damaged immensely if a renter got my permit pulled. What am I supposed to do then? This thing needs to be though out carefully so that it doesn't damage landlords in its haste to remedy the problem people are having with students. No one has ever filed even a single complaint against one of my properties, nor is it in slum-like condition, however I don't want one bad apple student someday to permanently damage my ability to rent my property. The option then is to not rent to students to reduce the risk, but if everyone does that there will be a severe housing shortage for students. Let's be careful in how we do this. Also, if you are suggesting that large complexes would somehow be exempt, then it seems to be an even more unfair burden on small landlords that have more at stake with each property.