Nuisance party ordinance yields positive results, police say

Saturday, December 15, 2007 | 5:58 p.m. CST; updated 9:41 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

COLUMBIA — Police say an ordinance, in effect for a full semester, has successfully decreased the number of nuisance parties in Columbia.

The ordinance defines a nuisance party as a noisy social gathering of 10 or more people where underage drinking, fighting, outdoor urination or drug use are taking place, among other violations.

“I think the number of people attending the parties has decreased from what we’ve seen in the past, and there is a little more level of responsibility,” Officer Tim Thomason said. Thomason is the coordinator of the Police Department’s Crime Free programs, which work to reduce crime that stems from Columbia’s rental housing.

There have been fewer parties with hundreds of attendees, he said.

The first part of the ordinance, which would allow fines starting at $500 for occupants throwing nuisance parties, went into effect in November 2006.

The second part, which holds landlords liable for repeated nuisance parties on their property, went into effect on Aug. 1.

Police issued tickets at 38 nuisance parties the first six months the first section was enforced. They issued tickets at 48 parties following the start of the second section’s enforcement.

A state grant allowing police to use overtime money to enforce the ordinance probably contributed to the increased ticketing, Thomason said. Police received the grant midyear, and it expires at the end of 2007.

Tenants who are not at home at the time of a party can still be held liable, according to the ordinance. If no one claims the party, police can come back at a later date and arrest every tenant living at the residence, he said.

At the majority of parties, police ticket all tenants present, Thomason said.

For a first offense, fines range from $500 to $750 for tenants. To date, there have been no repeat offenders.

In accordance with the ordinance, landlords are sent a notice that a fine has been given.

On the second offense, the landlord must have a meeting with Thomason regarding what he or she is going to do to prevent the problem from happening again.

On the third offense, the landlord may be subject to repercussions if no action is taken, Thomason said. Possible repercussions include an arrest or civil suit seeking to have the home boarded up.

“Any time in the process the landlord has a way out,” Thomason said. The landlord can start eviction processes at any point to prevent prosecution.

The nuisance party ordinance was created because the previous $75 party fine wasn’t cutting it, said Dave Muscato, a licensed Missouri real estate broker.

“Nothing in the ordinance is new. Everything in the ordinance was already illegal,” Muscato said.

Before, landlords had a legal obligation to prevent nuisance parties, but were not held accountable. Now, it is a criminal problem for the landlord.

“I don’t think landlords should be responsible for tenants’ actions,” Muscato said.

Although police say the ordinance is decreasing the number of nuisance parties in Columbia, there is still work to do to improve enforcement of the ordinance.

For example, Thomason said there are still problems with uninvited partygoers attending parties at homes where they don’t know the occupant at all.

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