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Bill targets noisiest neighbors

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore may be getting a whole lot quieter.

The City Council's public safety subcommittee heard testimony yesterday on a proposal that would widely expand the scope of the city's public nuisance law, allowing police to evict home and business owners who repeatedly play blaring music or commit "the most egregious of noise violations."

The bill, which was introduced by City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, prohibits noise in residential neighborhoods above 55 decibels and would allow the police commissioner to "close" an offending property for up to one year after two noise convictions.

It would add to a law that defines public nuisances as prostitution, drugs, gambling and possession of stolen property.

"We're not talking about having a loud conversation, or a loud argument because in that case I'd have to march myself down to Central Booking," Rawlings-Blake said. "It's about making sure when there's a significant problem the community has a tool to deal with it."

A version of the bill is likely to pass, but officials from the city police and health departments who testified yesterday expressed skepticism at their ability to enforce the proposed law.

While police respond to noise complaints, officers have no way to measure decibel level, and they often have more urgent criminal activity to tend to, said Sgt. Derrick Lee, legislative liaison for the Police Department.

Police often resolve noise complaints by asking the offender to quiet down. They can also issue a civil or criminal citation for excessive noise, Lee said. Whether to issue a citation is at the officer's discretion, and only a criminal citation which results in a guilty finding would apply under the bill.

Bernard J. Bochenek, director of the Bureau of Environmental Services at the Health Department, said his personnel and staff from the liquor board have access to decibel meters but that consistent enforcement of the measure would require personnel to be available 24 hours a day.

Kathy Kelly Howard, a lawyer for Regional Management Inc., which manages more than 4,000 properties in the city, said her group opposes the bill on the grounds that it would unfairly penalize property owners who are unable to immediately evict a noisy tenant.

"The noise that you are talking about is really, I think is easily identifiable in bars and restaurants. ... But these are a lot different from those other criminal activities that are easily identifiable by the Police Department," Howard said. "Noise violations ... it's a little different animal."

Florence Washington, 61, a retired city school teacher who has lived in the Lochwood Apartments in the 1200 block of E. Belvedere Ave. for 16 months, said she has had many sleepless nights because of her neighbor below. She supports the measure.

"What kind of treatment is this for a little old lady?" Washington asked during the hearing.

She said her neighbor blares loud music - sometimes until 4 a.m. - and that the apartment management and the police have done nothing to stop it. More than 30 times, she said, she's called the police.

"He plays hip-hop music with all those lyrics calling us bad names that they've been talking about in the news lately," Washington said. "I tried to use a tape recorder to prove all the noise he's making."

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