Towson residents, police welcome widening of law limiting rowdy parties

The residents of communities affected by a Baltimore County law aimed at curbing disruptive, off-campus parties in Towson neighborhoods, mainly near Towson University, welcomed the County Council’s recent vote to widen the ordinance’s reach, as well as to extend the law to 2022.

The council voted unanimously earlier this month to extend the law — which is known as the Social Host-Unruly Social Gatherings ordinance — another four years and expand it to include all of Towson.

“The law is having the desired effect, and the neighborhoods that were in the original boundaries are pleased in having fewer loud or disruptive parties near their homes,” said Paul Hartman, a founding member of the Greater Towson Council of Community Association's University Relations Committee. The committee of the umbrella civic group focuses primarily on issues related to Towson University’s enrollment growth.

The number of overly rowdy parties has dropped dramatically in the neighborhoods closest to campus, Hartman said.

Data gathered by the committee shows that off-campus disorderly complaints from Towson neighbors to Towson University decreased from 22 during the 2015-16 school year to nine in 2016-17.

“With any issue you’re probably not going to solve it with one magic law,” Hartman said. “Social host didn’t stop every single party, but it has reduced it significantly.”

The Baltimore County Council passed the social host ordinance in January 2016 to hold problem landlords and renters accountable through their pocketbooks in seven neighborhoods near Towson University, east of York Road. It expanded to six additional Towson neighborhoods in February at the request of the community associations.

The law, which also applies to an area near the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in Catonsville, allows police to cite gatherings of four or more people or behavior that causes “substantial disturbance of the peace and quiet enjoyment of private or public property.”

First-time offenders face a $500 fine and 20 hours of community service while the landlord of the residence in which the gathering took place can receive a written warning. Repeat offenders face up to $1,000 in fines and 48 hours of community service, while their landlords can eventually face similar fines and the loss of their rental licenses.

The two-year pilot, which was introduced by County Councilman David Marks, was set to expire in January.

On Nov. 20 the County Council voted to extend the ordinance’s expiration date to 2022 and expand its reach to all areas encompassed by the Baltimore County Police Department’s Precinct 6, which includes, and is based in, Towson.

Baltimore County spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said County Executive Kevin Kamenetz plans to sign the ordinance in time for it to go into effect Dec. 4.

“I regard the social host legislation as one of the most important initiatives this council has passed,” Marks, a Republican who represents Towson, said in a Nov, 27 email. “I am very pleased with the bipartisan, unanimous support from my colleagues, who recognize that this is not just a public safety issue— it's a property rights issue, since unruly disturbances erode neighborhoods over time.”

Marks said the latest change in the law’s boundaries was made in response to requests from neighborhoods that wanted to be included as those covered under the ordinance, including Gaywood, near Rodgers Forge, and Campus Hills, near Goucher College.

Though Campus Hills does not have many student rentals, residents of the neighborhood just south of the Baltimore Beltway wanted to expand the ordinance’s reach to avoid confusion, according to Wesley Wood, of Campus Hills.

“I’m encouraged to hear that it’s been working well and may have decreased complaints about noise and littering at individual homes, and specifically rental homes,” Wood said. “It was an ordeal to get the information out and get it working, but I think it can only get better by spreading it throughout the precinct.”

The change in boundaries also makes enforcement of the ordinance more manageable for county police, Marks said.

Police welcome the law’s expansion because it makes it easier for officers to know if they are in an area covered under the ordinance, said Baltimore County Police Precinct 6 commander Capt. Jan Brown.

The expansion is also necessary because, as Towson University continues to grow, students are no longer living just in the areas immediately next to campus, Brown said in a Nov. 27 email.

“Students are moving to other neighborhoods in our area that traditionally did not have any students and the ensuing parties and issues follow,” Brown added.

Baltimore Sun reporter Alison Knezevich contributed to this story.

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