LEWISTON — A new city ordinance would make it clear: You are just one loud party away from a police summons and some pretty steep fines.
The City Council discussed a proposed “nuisance party” ordinance Tuesday, which would place heightened restrictions on noisy disturbances, taking aim at both tenants and landlords that allow parties to continue.
Police will now issue $300 fines to party hosts for a first offense. Even those who attend the party could face $100 fines after being told to exit.
Landlords would also become subject to fines following a second nuisance offense within a six-month period, but could avoid them if they show they are taking steps to stop the issue.
The ordinance was drafted in response to ongoing discussions over off-campus housing for Bates College seniors, but it’s the most direct and strictest policy language to come out of the talks.
The definition of “nuisance party” in the ordinance includes a dozen conditions, including underage drinking, noise, parking, public urination – even littering. If police witness one or more factors, the fines will be imposed.
Police Chief Brian O’Malley said that in the past, the department has given a warning first, then only taken action if a second noise complaint is made. Not anymore. Now, he said, the party will be done after a first visit, and fines will be issued.
“That’s going to add up,” he said referring to the escalating fines. “This is going to start to hurt these kids.”
City Administrator Ed Barrett said he looked at four or five similar ordinances when drafting the language. Many are used in college towns.
Bates officials have repeatedly said that only about 140 students are allowed to live off-campus, but neighbors say if one house hosts a party, they can sometimes attract more than 100 people, including those who are underage.
O’Malley said the $100 fine for attendees will most likely be difficult to enforce as people begin to leave, but he said they will be more strict when it comes to fines for minors in possession of alcohol and other offenses.
He said the department gave 13 summonses to Bates students during the first weekend of the school year — 11 for minors possessing alcohol and two for furnishing alcohol.
But, he said, he believes Bates students, particularly the seniors living off-campus, have been receptive to police discussions. Each off-campus rental property has a house liaison that will work directly with a Lewiston police officer.
The officer, Charlie Weaver, told the council Tuesday that one person from each off-campus residence volunteered to be the contact person. He said the intent is to “open the doors of communication.” If issues occur, he said, he’ll use that contact to set up times to talk to the entire household.
Weaver said that the ordinance makes it easier to issue civil summonses, which are “reasonable but also very effective.” He said it eliminates the warning, but is not necessarily as strict as charging students with a crime, which is something they’d like to avoid.
Josh McIntosh, dean of students for Bates College, told the council that he expects the ordinance will result in more summonses for students. When that happens, the college is notified and the student enters the college’s student conduct process.
Just after the council workshop Tuesday, McIntosh was hosting a separate meeting between off-campus seniors and officer Weaver. Bates College also sent an email last month to all returning students regarding the ongoing discussions.
The City Council will officially take up the ordinance next week. It’s the latest in a series of moves by city officials to curb complaints from Bates College neighbors, who say issues in the neighborhood have grown recently.
Just last week, the City Council approved a winter parking ban aimed at a number of streets surrounding the college, hoping to cut down on unsafe parking infractions.
At the time, Mayor Bob Macdonald warned Bates students that more restrictions would be coming.
While the ordinance could squeeze some of the fun out of living off-campus, many said the new rules would help police address citywide problems, especially in the downtown.
Downtown resident and community organizer Melissa Dunn told councilors Tuesday that she hopes the ordinance can alleviate the noise and disturbance issues in her neighborhood as well. She said she’s seen a number of violent disturbances and often can’t sleep due to noise. She’s lived in the downtown for years, she said, but has “never experienced anything like this.”
“Bates College presents us with an issue, but it’s not even close to what you folks have to go through downtown,” Macdonald said. “This is what this is going to do, it will make it a much more livable situation.”
But, Dunn said, she does have concerns that the ordinance could have a negative impact on landlords. She said if tenants are ultimately evicted due to multiple infractions, the eviction process can sometimes be lengthy. It could leave the landlord with multiple fines even as they are trying to address the problem.
The ordinance lays out a series of steep fines. A second infraction would give landlords a $500 fine, a third would be $1,000.
O’Malley said a few of the summonses given to students last weekend were for consuming alcohol in public. He said in one instance, a 17-year-old was drinking a beer while walking down College Street.
“The kids who have been here have been open to the rules, it’s the new kids on campus that feel it’s a free-for-all,” he said.
Here’s how the draft ordinance discussed Tuesday defines a “nuisance party:”
A “nuisance party” is defined as a social gathering or party which is conducted on premises within the City and which, by reason of the conduct of the persons in attendance, results in any one or more of the following conditions or events occurring at the site of the party or social gathering, or on neighboring public or private property:
(1) disorderly conduct;
(2) illegal open container;
(3) outdoor urination or defecation in a public place;
(4) unlawful sale, furnishing, dispensing or consumption of beer or intoxicating liquor to an underage person;
(5) illegal use of a controlled substance;
(6) public indecency;
(7) unlawful deposit of litter or refuse;
(8) damage or destruction of property without the consent of the property owner;
(9) unlawful pedestrian or vehicular traffic;
(10) standing or parking of vehicles that obstructs the free flow of traffic on the public streets and sidewalks or that impedes the ability to render emergency services;
(11) unlawfully loud noise;
(12) or any other conduct or condition that threatens injury, inconvenience, or alarm to persons or damage to property.