Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Disorderly houses may face new music

City to consider tougher enforcement on problem party spots

January 17, 2006


Getting tougher on problem party houses in Lawrence may get a little easier.

City commissioners tonight are set to consider changes to the city's disorderly house ordinance after neighbors in several of the city's older neighborhoods complained the current version was largely a waste of everybody's time.

"We think this one is enforceable," Tom Harper, a member of the Centennial Neighborhood Assn., said of the proposed changes. "I think this ordinance can help our neighborhood be a good place to live."

The proposed changes would remove some of the legal hurdles that currently must be cleared before a property can be declared disorderly, leading to fines of up to $1,000 and allowing city utilities to be shut off.

Neighbors - especially those in Centennial, University Place and Oread - complained the ordinance was too cumbersome to be effective. They pointed to the fact that in the five years the law has been on the books, no one has been prosecuted under the ordinance.

"I think people started saying, 'It's not working, so what's the point?'" said Candice Davis, a member of the Oread Neighborhood Assn. "I think everybody sort of gave up on it, both the neighbors and the police."

City attorneys confirmed no one has been prosecuted but said the threat of prosecution has caused some disorderly homes to be improved.

The current ordinance requires a house be the site of at least two crimes - ranging from noise violations to more serious felony crimes - within a one-year period. Neighbors had complained it was next to impossible to have two separate crimes charged, prosecuted and convicted within 12 months.

Neighbors also were concerned that when an individual reached a diversion agreement, that agreement couldn't be used as evidence that the property was a disorderly house. The new ordinance would allow diversions to count against a property.

The second change would allow city prosecutors to charge either a tenant or the property owners with the disorderly house crime as soon as they believed a second crime had been committed at the home. Under the current ordinance, prosecutors must wait until a conviction has been rendered in the second crime. With the new ordinance, prosecutors would be allowed to show evidence of the second crime as part of the disorderly house trial. The changes also would allow prosecutors to move ahead on a case if three separate charges were made at a house stemming from a single event. The current ordinance requires at least two separate events on different days.

City Commissioner David Schauner said he supported changing the ordinance because he agreed it was too tough to prosecute. But he said whether the new ordinance will be effective will depend on whether the Police Department has the tools to enforce the ordinance. If the police don't have the ability to know when a home has been the site of two crimes, the ordinance still won't be used very often, Schauner predicted.

Scott Miller, an attorney within the city's Legal Services Department, said the Police Department's ability to do such tracking was still a "work in progress," but was improving.

Schauner, though, said he hoped the city would take additional measures to improve livability in older neighborhoods. He wants city staff members in the next year to show the commission how it could offer tax credits to people looking to fix up older homes in target neighborhoods, with the condition the homes remain owner-occupied.

"If we're trying to bring back older neighborhoods and retain their viability, we need to do something different than we're doing now," Schauner said.

City commissioners will discuss the disorderly house ordinance at their meeting that begins at 6:35 p.m. tonight at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.


Sigmund 12 years, 5 months ago

Marion- Warren Zevon Rawks!

Thanks Sigmund

badger 12 years, 5 months ago

How amused I am right now that 'disorderly house' used to be a delicate name for a house of ill repute....

Linda Endicott 12 years, 5 months ago

And if the city finds out that a second complaint was unwarranted, will they turn the utilities back on free of charge?

I think neighbors should have enough respect for each other to not make a lot of noise after a certain time of night. But, unfortunately, we don't live in that perfect world (damn Walgreens, anyway...weren't they supposed to take care of that?).

Shutting off someone's utilities, though, is just asinine...way too extreme.

The main problem I've always had with neighbors who have a party is that people will park their cars all my yard, in my driveway, making it impossible for me to get out when I need to, without going over and asking someone to move a car...which is a pain in the behind, and you never know what kind of reaction you're going to get...

This, however, is not the fault of the homeowner or renter...maybe they should be a little more particular about their guest lists...

Emily Hadley 12 years, 5 months ago

As long as we have plenty of places to hang out and showcase musical or other talent where we aren't pressured to purchase alcohol and all ages are welcome, as well as having strong protection and balanced review to expose and defuse those antagonist complainers with their trigger finger on their 911 speed dial, I don't see any problem. Most importantly, though, TALK TO YOUR NEIGHBORS BEFORE YOU CALL THE COPS ON THEM. It's only as neighborly as keeping the volume down... A great man once said, "If you don't love your neighbor then you don't love God."

Linda Endicott 12 years, 5 months ago

Talking to your neighbors should definitely be your first step.

Of course, a couple of times that has only made things worse...a lot of parties serve alcohol, and normally nice people aren't always as reasonable after a few drinks...

Sigmund 12 years, 5 months ago

BTW, here is how another "progressive college town" in the midwest proposes to deal with the issue, red tags. Shhhhhsh....dont tell the Kommisars, we will have red tags here as well!

Godot 12 years, 5 months ago

After they turn off the utilities and fine these people $1,000 they'll end up homeless. Just what we need. What a ridiculous proposition.

And what is this about fining the landlords, too? Will landlords be notified that their tenants have been charged with being disorderly? Or will they just be unpleasantly surprised when they learn a warrant has been issued for their arrest?

This is the same totalitarian mindset that fines business owners for the actions of their smoking patrons.

Godot 12 years, 5 months ago

Marion, good insight on the condemnation thing.

Along the same vein, check out the CJonline today, front page, the article about Compton and Newsome asking the City of Topeka to condemn two properties that they want to buy to make way for their new development near Washburn U. Seems the business owners are willing to sell, but for a price that Southwind Capital isn't willing to pay. So, they are using the "eminent domain" to get the property.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 12 years, 5 months ago

I said I wasn't coming back here to post again, but I'm going to make an exception today.

I've lived in this town for nearly 25 years, most of that time in rental areas. I've kindly asked several nieghbors to "please turn it down". I've NEVER had a positive response in all these years. Usually, you end up with an angry drunk in your face. Then, if you do call the cops, you end up with an even more angry drunk in your face because only YOU could have been the one to call them. I learned long ago that neighbors who have parties are not "real neighbors". If they were, they would be more considerate about not infringing on my right to sleep. Now, I just call the cops. Any other approach has left me with regret. All of you who are saying "be cool, ask them to turn it down" are not living in the same reality that I have lived in.

I applaud this type of action. I cannot understand the whole "turn of the utilities" thing (are they condemning the house?), but the idea of getting tough on these situations is good for Lawrence. The fewer party houses we have in Lawrence, the more the criminals will stay in Topeka.

Now I'll go back to my "no more posting" policy.

jwmound 12 years, 5 months ago

and the commies run amuck, dictate this..

Linda Endicott 12 years, 5 months ago

I only had one time when asking the neighbors to turn it down actually worked...but they weren't drunk, there weren't dozens of people there (just a handful), and I guess they really didn't realize how loud the music was.

But you're right, OldEnuf, talking to the neighbors usually isn't a positive experience...and it could be potentially dangerous as never know when someone in that house might have a gun or something.

Sigmund 12 years, 5 months ago

I have to agree with OldEnuf2BYurDad, Godot, and Marion. First, I have never had a good experience with a drunk neighbor and I suggest you simply call the cops first. In fact, I had a neighbor who eventually was evicted because of continuous noise complaints take his pickup truck and try to knock down my fence at 3AM the next morning (he busted up his bumper, which shows how bright and neighborly he was). Second, Eminent Domain is abused regularly in this country and the current crop of Commissioners will eventually begin to use this "tool" to push their vision of Lawrence at the expense ordinary, usually lower class poor, property owners who can't afford to fight. Finally, Landlords in this town are in a no win situation. If they screen potential tenant's they open themselves up to a charge of discrimination and a huge fine and if their unscreened tenants have loud parties they open themselves up to a huge fine and condemnation. No wonder rental rates are sky high in this town!

I would guess that 90% of these noise complaints could be handled if the underage drinking laws were enforced. After all, most undergraduates are under the age of 21 and are not legal to drink. A couple of charges of underage drinking and a few contributing to the delinquency of a minor (for providing liquor to underage) would go a long way towards toning many of these parties down. From the set of new proposed laws it would seem that the current Commissioners want nobody in the bars downtown and no parties in houses, just a bunch of stoned hippies sitting in their living rooms on indoor furniture.

benm024 12 years, 5 months ago

Turning off utilities is inhumane. I say fine the $hit out of em.

1st offense - Warning 2nd offense - $500 3rd offense - $1000 4th offense - $5000 5th offense - $10000 Ect.

People move out of apartments because they don't want to listen to a bunch of stupid kids partying all night. When your so loud that the house next to you is complaining, your a moron, and you should be paying stupid person tax anyway. Oh and if your parking in my yard to go to a party at someone else's house. Be thankful if all you get is your car towed.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.