COLUMBIA-Starting today, if landlords are unable to keep their tenants from having loud parties night after night, they’ll lose the right to rent those apartments or houses.
A nuisance party is defined in the ordinance as a noisy social gathering of 10 or more people where underage drinking, fighting, outdoor urination or drug use are taking place.
Most landlords won’t talk about the new section of the ordinance. But when it was proposed in May 2004, the Columbia Apartment Association made its feelings known in a letter to the mayor, City Council and the city’s legal department.
“We do not support the proposed Nuisance Party Ordinance or any other ordinance that transfers the blame and responsibility from the perpetrator of the nuisance, disturbance, crime, etc., to an innocent person that just happens to own the property,” the letter states. “We are not baby sitters, caretakers, parents, guardians or keepers of the peace.”
In the letter, the apartment association says the problems the ordinance addresses are the police department’s purview.
Columbia police Officer Tim Thomason, coordinator of the department’s Crime Free Programs, which helps educate landlords and hotel owners about evictions, leases, screening tenants and property maintenance, said that it was not possible for the city’s 147 police officers to control the nuisance party problem alone.
“We need landlords’ help in caring for the problems in our neighborhoods,” Thomason said.
Jenny Smith, president of the Columbia Apartment Association, said she could not talk about the new section on the association’s behalf. No one else in the organization would comment.
But Elizabeth Crawford, who owns Bee Properties, which operates rental housing, said she was worried about being able to control what her tenants do.
“It is ridiculous.” Crawford said.
Crawford owns an apartment complex at 406 S. William St., and most of her tenants are college students. She said that the only thing she can do to screen out potentially troublesome residents is a background check of prospective tenants and their parents.
“Most of the time there is not much to go off when my tenants are 18 years of age, which is why I do a background check on the parents of my tenants as well,” Crawford said.
Chad Holliday, property manager of Copper Beach, said that if tenants are continually violating the law, then they should be removed from the property.
“If the Columbia Police Department is backing you and submitting notices, then you are aware,” Holliday said. “It is your duty to be aware.”
Landlords like Crawford are concerned about the financial loss that will result from enforcement of the new section.
But police say they’ve already seen a reduction in the number of noisy gatherings, and they credit the nuisance party ordinance that went into effect last November. Since then, police have responded to 41 “nuisance parties” and have arrested 72 people, Thomason said. Those numbers do not include any underlying offenses, like minors in possession of alcohol.
Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm said the majority of people arrested at nuisance parties were for minors in possession. Thomason said that once the size of the fines — $500 to $2,000 — becomes well known, partyers will think twice.
“I don’t think it will sink in until the fines start to come out,” Thomason said. “I think it is making a difference.”
Thomason expects that the number of parties will increase when the students are back.
“There were about 26 nuisance parties in May and June,” Thomason said. “Most of these parties were in large college areas, and with a lot of college students not here there has been a decrease in parties.”
But police think the ordinance has had a positive effect.
“I haven’t seen any repeat customers.” Thomason said.