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Published: Monday, 10/18/2004

Draft law may bring landlords a jail stay

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo City Council is considering an ordinance that could put landlords in jail if their tenants hold too many loud parties.

The proposal, which is tougher than either the Athens, Ohio, or Bowling Green ordinances upon which it is based, is an attempt to crack down on student parties in the residential neighborhoods around the University of Toledo, but would apply citywide.

"This ordinance addresses the egregious examples of parties and gatherings that are literally out of control," District 5 Councilman Ellen Grachek said. Co-sponsoring the measure are District 1 Councilman Wilma Brown and at-large Councilman George Sarantou.

A landlords' association says the ordinance holds them responsible for behavior they can't control. And, they said, it could impel a landlord to try to personally break up a party if the police don't do it.

"That is something that should be handled by the police force," said John Aubry, chairman of the apartment council of the Home Builders Association.

The ordinance identifies a "nuisance party" as one in which at least two of a series of offenses occur. Those offenses include disorderly conduct, illegal open container, outdoor urination or defecation, unlawful sale or consumption of beer or liquor, underage drinking, public indecency, drug use, littering, destruction of property, unlawful parking or traffic, blocking emergency vehicles, and loud music.

The person or people in control of the premises - the tenant, in the case of rental properties - could be charged with a fourth-degree misdemeanor on the first offense and a third-degree misdemeanor on a second offense within nine months.

After each offense, a certified letter would be sent to the owner of the property, and also to the city's code enforcement office.

An owner who "recklessly permits" three or more incidents in a 12-month period could be charged with a fourth-degree misdemeanor, punishable with up to 30 days in jail, and a fine of up to $250.

Mr. Aubry, the owner of 150 rental units in Rossford, said landlords don't want disruptive tenants. But he said evictions are time-consuming, and the landlord has no power to stop his tenants from partying if a judge holds up or denies the eviction.

Ms. Grachek said the ordinance is a way to hold property owners responsible. She said party complaints are "a low priority" for the police. Ms. Brown said police are stretched too thin to respond adequately to all the parties in Bancroft Hills, Byrne Hill Estates, Secor Gardens, and now Old Orchard.

"We don't have that many police," she said.

Ms. Brown said the ordinance was written to cover the whole city to avoid being accused of discriminating against students.

Both the Athens and Bowling Green ordinances create the category of "nuisance houses" based on disruptive parties, and both impose misdemeanor charges on the people who live in the houses.

But both college towns' laws stop short of criminal penalties for landlords for their tenants' behavior.

The Athens' ordinance, enacted April 1, requires a letter to be sent to the property owner informing him or her of the nuisance situation, a copy of which is sent to the city's code enforcement office.

Bowling Green's ordinance, enacted June 7, requires the landlord to agree to take corrective action within 30 days, ranging from meeting with the neighbors to instituting eviction proceedings.

If the landlord fails to follow through on the corrective action, the landlord can be cited by the city prosecutor.

City Council plans a public hearing on the ordinance 4 p.m., Nov. 8, in council chambers.

The ordinance is one of several efforts being made to crack down on excessive partying by college students.

Sgt. Sharon Cook, the police department's Block Watch coordinator, said the mayor's task force on student housing formed a year ago has brought the university, residents, students, police, and City Council together on a regular basis to brainstorm solutions.

"I think they're looking for a way to hold the landlords accountable for what's happening, because many times the landlord is not aware of the problem," Sergeant Cook said.

Contact Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



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