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‘Party house’ ordinance targets noisy residences

Part of the orange sticker program, houses deemed ‘disruptive and dangerous’ will be issued larger fines

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, November 7, 2013

A recent Providence ordinance aims to reduce nuisance complaints about local student “party houses” by marking them with orange stickers, which could potentially affect Brown students living off campus.

As part of the orange sticker program, also known as the “‘Party House’ Ordinance,” bright orange stickers are affixed to doors of houses that have exhibited “disruptive and dangerous behavior,” wrote Sean Creegan, assistant city solicitor for Providence, in an email to The Herald.

The policy was implemented through a collaboration between the City Solicitor’s Office, the City’s Nuisance Task Force and the Providence Police Department. A similar policy is already in place in Narragansett, Creegan added.

Once a house is marked with a sticker, tenants face a $500 fine every time police officers respond to additional noise complaints, and they must maintain the sticker and keep it visible or risk a $100 fine. The policy is designed to encourage both tenants and landlords to take responsibility for disturbing the peace or throwing unsafe parties, Creegan wrote.

“It reminds me of … ‘The Scarlet Letter,’” said Michele Narbonne ’15, who received off-campus permission this year. Like the scarlet “A” of the novel, the stickers serve as visible markers of bad behavior, she said.

Since the sticker system was inaugurated in September, four houses in Providence have been marked and two residents have been fined “for failure to adequately maintain the stickers,” Creegan wrote. Police have not yet had to return to any of the stickered houses to respond to noise complaints.

Individuals already affected by the policy include students from Bryant University and Johnson and Wales University, the Providence Journal reported. But since the ordinance applies to the entire city, stickers could be applied to the off-campus homes of Brown students as well.

Providence Police officers frequently team up with Department of Public Safety officers to address disturbance complaints, said Paul Shanley, deputy chief of police for DPS. Often, party-throwers will only receive a warning or be asked to lower noise levels. But if parties are deemed unsafe because of issues such as overcrowding or underage drinking or if noise is excessive, the Providence department will issue fines, usually around $200, Shanley said.

DPS and Providence are “really trying to keep the peace between Brown students and their neighbors,” said Hannah Mack ’14, who rents a house off campus.

While the Office of Residential Life has not yet dealt with any off-campus student residences affected by the sticker policy, administrators would respond in a manner similar to how they currently respond to reports of students disrespecting their neighbors, said Richard Bova, senior associate dean of Residential Life and Dining Services. The University already works with students who have chronic issues with neighbors or the police, Bova added.

Of the about 1,300 students who live off campus, around 1,200 live in houses owned by landlords unaffiliated with Brown, Bova said, adding that students must complete an online tutorial that includes information about being respectful neighbors and good tenants before receiving off-campus permission.

“The vast majority of students who live off campus are great members of their community,” he said.

If an off-campus complaint is reported to DPS, the incident is forwarded to ResLife and administrators work with students to “develop an action plan” to prevent future disturbances, Bova said. Off-campus behavior that results in the issuance of local citations can be considered a breach of the Student Code of Conduct, which could result in more serious administrative review or judicial action.

Complaints from neighbors or neighborhood associations can also reach ResLife and spur administrative action, he added.

Many students living off campus had not heard of the policy and expressed discomfort with the idea of marking certain residences as party houses. Andrew Silverman ’14 said he is concerned the policy would create difficulties because of the short timespan of student rentals, meaning the party house label may not be accurate year after year.

Though the stickers could be an effective deterrent to throwing parties, Mack said, they could also create tensions among students, landlords, neighbors and the police.

It is too early to know if the policy effectively deters raucous parties, but some students suspect it will, Silverman said, adding that students might begin holding more exclusive parties, rather than larger events.

But other students said they believe the policy will not affect notorious party houses, instead influencing only students who are already cautious about throwing large, noisy parties.

“Houses that have huge parties are not all of a sudden going to stop,” Narbonne said.


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