Baltimore Co. council members want to expand crackdown on college parties

Baltimore Co. Council members want to expand crackdown on student parties

A year after passing a bill to crack down on what some call out-of-control parties in neighborhoods near Towson University, some Baltimore County Council members want to expand the area covered by the law.

The pilot program enacted in 2016 aims to hold accountable not only students, but their landlords — who face fines and can lose their rental licenses if their tenants commit repeated offenses.

Now, supporters say the law is working and they want to expand to more neighborhoods in the Towson area. Some landlords, meanwhile, feel the ordinance unfairly holds them responsible for the actions of others.

A bill proposed by council members David Marks, Cathy Bevins and Wade Kach would expand the so-called "social host" ordinance to cover The Penthouse condominiums, Riderwood Hills, Towson Park, Knettishall, Loch Raven Village and Rodgers Forge. The bill will be discussed at a work session Feb. 14, with a vote scheduled for Feb. 21.

Seven neighborhoods east of York Road — as well as neighborhoods near the University of Maryland, Baltimore County — were part of the pilot program.

Statistics kept by Towson University show a decline in resident complaints about student behavior — an improvement some attribute to the ordinance.

"Now that it seems to be having a deterrent effect, I'm comfortable with enlarging the boundaries," Marks said.

While laws about excessive noise and public intoxication were already on the books, Marks says this measure is different because it brings landlords into the equation.

"Landlords need to know what their tenants are doing," he said. "Most landlords and most student renters, I think, are good neighbors. But we've had situations over the years where landlords simply don't care about the behavior of those to whom they're renting."

Ben Frederick, the past president of the Property Owners Association of Greater Baltimore, said the law unfairly targets landlords, who can't control others' actions.

"When I rent someone a property, I can't control their behavior once they're in the house," Frederick said. "If my children misbehave, they get arrested, I don't. The tenants are not under my direct supervision and control."

The Maryland Multi-Housing Association has not yet taken a position on the legislation, said Tommy Tompsett, the group's lobbyist. The group first opposed the bill last year but supported it after amendments.

"The new bill looks to be pre-emptive, to strike at an anticipated growth of Towson University," he said.

Bevins said she received requests from residents in Loch Raven Village and Knettishall to be added to the enforced area.

Rowdy student behavior "spills out into the neighborhood so it's actually become a quality-of-life issue," she said. "There's alcohol involved."

Under the ordinance, gatherings of four or more people can be cited for behavior that causes "substantial disturbance of the peace and quiet enjoyment of private or public property."

In a first-time case, the offender faces a $500 fine and 20 hours of community service. The landlord gets 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.

"We are hearing anecdotally that the Towson students are worried about this," said Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger, who supported the pilot program.

Police officials say 19 citations have been issued in Towson since the ordinance took effect — and only one has been a repeat offender. None of the cases have been near UMBC.

Violators are not hit with criminal charges. Instead, they receive a civil citation.

Since the law took effect, complaints about Towson student behavior off campus have dropped.

In August 2015, the school received 21 complaints; in August 2016, it received three.

"I do think the social host ordinance has made a difference," said Jana Varwig, the university's associate vice president for student development programs and services.

The school notified students who live in the pilot program's affected areas through emails and postcards, she said.

Community leaders also think the law has helped.

Over the years, issues have included drunken people urinating in backyards, setting off firecrackers in the middle of the night and vandalizing signs, said Paul Hartman, vice president of the Aigburth Manor Association of Towson.

Although it's early, Hartman believes the decline in complaints is in part because of the law.

"I think it has had a positive effect," he said of the law. "We just want to co-exist with students."

David Riley, president of the Knollwood Association, recalled instances of huge parties with profane language. But since the pilot program went into effect in his neighborhood, "nothing like that has ever happened."

"The overwhelming majority of [Towson] students are great neighbors," Riley said.

In neighborhoods near the university, word of the pilot program has spread to students.

"We've heard it through the grapevine," said Jenny Krause, 21, a student from Frederick.

She and her roommate, Megan Turlik, said they've heard of students being cited and they think it's making some people think twice.

"People are definitely aware," said Turlik, a 21-year-old student from Eldersburg. "People are more careful."

The women live a few blocks from campus, next to a family with a baby, so they said they understood the intentions of the bill.

"There are families here," Turlik said.

Down the street, Kyle Palazzotto, 24, said his roommates received citations in the fall when people were gathered on the porch, though he wasn't there when it happened.

As a restaurant worker, he's often away from home on nights and weekends when parties take place, he said.

He said he understands why residents would want the law because "there has to be a level of respect," he said.

At the same time, he thinks the law is "a revenue builder" for government. He also thinks it's odd that under the law, a group as small as four people can be targeted.

"It's a little overkill," he said.

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Rachael Pacella contributed to this article.

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