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landlord helpImagine being fined $1,000, over and over,  because the neighbors think your tenants are too loud.

Landlords in the Town of Durham, New Hampshire are now facing possible fines each time police are called to a substantiated noise complaint. This new ordinance was passed two weeks ago after hours of debate between residents of Durham, rental property owners, and student groups from the University of New Hampshire over the regulation of off-campus housing.

Clearly the Town of Durham is negatively impacted by an increase in police activity during the school year – the Town’s weekly police arrest reports statistics note the end of August as when “UNH dormitories officially open and students begin to arrive.”

Without a doubt, locals disdain the noise of partying college students.  But the questions that remains unanswered after passage of this latest ordinance are this:  Why fine the landlords?  Why not fine the tenants instead?

Durham isn’t alone is trying to make landlords regulate the behavior of students in off-campus housing, which often includes excessive drinking and other disruptive behaviors. We reported recently on Santa Cruz, California’s new requirement that assesses a fee against landlords to inspect premises that house students, and also reported on the city of Boulder, Colorado’s attempts to rein in parties through “no-roommate” zoning ordinances, a prohibition on upholstered furniture outdoors, a fire ban, and the latest, called SmartRegs, which may punish landlords for tenants’ who leave doors and windows open in the winter.

Landlords in college towns want to know why the universities don’t do more to stop the binge and underage drinking that have become the hallmark of college life across the country, and the root of many noise complaints.  Certainly colleges have the right to expel students for inappropriate behavior- a powerful incentive for students who fear having to transfer to another school,  and one that might just solve the problem.

But instead, local city governments and university boards look to landlords to solve the problem.  But if parents can’t make young renters behave, and the universities won’t boot them out,  what can landlords do?

Ordinances like these that are designed to regulate ambiguous behavior are ambitious at best. The trick in drafting this type of legislation is to come up with something that is effective, enforceable, and doesn’t spur a rash of lawsuits.

The language of the Durham ordinance is problematic in two ways.  First, it may be challenged as too vague.  As stated in the ordinance, the prohibited behavior is anything  “which would have a tendency to disturb unreasonably the community, the neighborhood or an ordinary individual occupying property in or near the disorderly activity, including but not limited to loud music; boisterous parties; excessively loud or unnecessary noises emanating from within or near the building which are audible outside the building; fights within the building or in its vicinity involving occupants of the building or their invitees; occupants of the building or their invitees being intoxicated outdoors in the vicinity of the building; and other similar activities in the building or in the vicinity of the building.”

How does a landlord convey this in a lease agreement, where they have to specifically spell out the prohibited behavior.  What’s “unnecessary” noise?  Would families with noisy children irritate the neighbors, too? And try attracting renters to a property where the tenants feel they have to behave like Trappist monks or be evicted.

Students have been outspoken in their opposition to the Durham ordinance, mostly out of concern that rents will increase – but there must be a little bit a fear that the ordinance will be effective in limiting social events.  One student took a shot at local residents:  “Don’t live in a neighborhood where 14,000 people are partying if you want it to be quiet ever night.”

Town officials have stated that the rules are not meant to burden landlords, who are often dubbed “absentees”, but rather to bring landlords to the table to discuss their responsibility for making sure student tenants don’t misbehave.  Apparently, it takes a village…

See our feature, New Law Will Stick It To Landlords.

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  • kit larsen

    Once again, with government officials, the stupidity shines thru…..local government wants to hang the pigtail on the landloard because they believe its the deep pocket. Did anyone of them review the laws that limit landlords responsibilities to the tenants……this noise situation is easy fix…….ticket the offenders (with the help of the landlord in case the legal tenant is not at the party), graduated fines, ie first offense $ second $$, third jail. offenders dont pay or show for court. send to school for school suspension. and issue warrants. that is the way it should work…..the offenders feel the heat.

  • IBQuig

    Landlords do have some responsibility for what happens on their property.If the disturbance is a crime then the landlord has the right to evict if they add a “crime free” addendum to their lease.

    I suspect that landlords failure to act in good faith caused the city to take this draconian measure.

    Very often these properties are not on college property therefore the school has no legal standing in the issue. Students would tend to ignore the fines, or declare themselves not responsible because they can’t be held responsible for the actions of others on the property. This argument would hold true for anyone not considered the “head of household”, or other lease holders. Its not like the police showing up at a property would be able to identify specific nuisance individuals who disappear as soon as the police show up.

    Take this one step further, if a landlord knows of illegal drug activity on their property are they free to ignore it as long as the rent is paid? At what point is a landlord culpable for illegal activity on his property?

    Just my thoughts

  • Medhat Beshai

    This is outrageous from the City officials, punshing the Landlords for another people mistakes or crimes…I’m a landlord from differernt state, that does not mean a deep pocket, it is sometime a way to make monthly income to bring food to your own family, and keep getting citations, violations, inspections, etc…for a $500/month rent, and in many cases, tenants scame landlord in big amount of money by not paying for months and months till get evicted. Then now we add to it the legal and monetary responsiblity from Tenants to Landlord…nobody will continue to afford to run a business like that, and that’s why many landlords in the bad areas or Cities, leave their homes abandent rather than pay those fines

  • In our college town, the local city officials have toyed with the idea of mandatory inspections, but settled on a rental registration (with a $20/yr fee per address) and have passed local nuisance ordinances that are a better step to address the offenders rather than the landlords. However, the anti-landlord sentiment is still pretty high based upon a few who do not care for their properties or enforce their own lease restrictions. The frustrating piece of this puzzle is that the local university has a Code of Conduct that is very difficult to enforce, except in extreme cases–and we have a coming-of-age tenant base who do a spotty job of taking personal responsibility. A vocal minority of those tenants reflect an attitude that they are here to party, it is someone else’s job to clean up. Unfortunately, that is often the landlord, property owner, city services or police.

  • sean

    I am on board with the ordinance being a Very Bad Thing ™.

    However, if landlords are stuck with it, I would think that it would be pretty easy to craft a lease clause that would cover it. Trying to prohibit the activity would be hard, it *is* to vague. So, instead the focus should be on the consequence. A lease clause could state that the tenants must reimburse the landlord for any fines or fees from related legal actions that stem from one of these violations by the tenant or any of their guests. It would be best to check with a lawyer, but you might even be able to stack an additional administrative fee on top of it.

    This would also turn the students and their parents into motivated allies in getting the ordinance tossed. How many parents finding these fines transferred to them and their kids by a lease clause do you think it would take before they started pushing back hard? Student groups have got nothing on parents on the financial hook.

  • Ron

    Here is another example of the govt. dumping their responsibilities on the landlord because the govt. does want to get off their donut munching butts.

    Here in Aurora, Colorado, if a tenant is storing items (not junk or trash) outside the unit, the landlord is obligated to confiscate the personal items and dispose of them. If the landlord doesn’t remove the items, the city can fine the landlord $1000.

    Go Tea Party and hurry up Election Day.

  • Larry

    Not the best approach to the problem

    I agree that an eviction clause upon a finding of criminal activity would help, but evictions are a costly and time consuming remedy.

    Perhaps a better approach is a “Noise Ordinance Deposit” on top of the usual damage deposit. this puts tennants (and parents) on notice of both the law and the consequences of a violation and provide the landlord with a fund to tap to pay the fine.

  • Anthony

    I dealt with these issues a lot as a student with student government. The idea of harsh penalties such as jail is short sighted and pointless. People should not be put in jail for being noisy. However fining offenders is a very good idea! Landlords who constantly have the problem coming up should be held accoutable also but a $1000 fine is very excessive! But landlords just can’t rent to any ol’ body just because they have rent at the end of the month. I also agree with the idea that people who enjoy their quiet should not live in neighborhoods near a university. It’s not as though these universities are a rapid change in demographic that just happened all of a sudden.

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