March 31, 2004

Noise Ordinance Passes

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The Common Council Governance Committee passed a revised noise ordinance last night after months of city-wide debate. The new ordinance, which increases the fines for noise violations and which includes a series of aggravating factors that exacerbate any particular offense, will be presented to the entire Common Council for possible passage this spring.

In recent weeks, the proposed ordinance has inspired Ithaca residents, college students and landlords to voice concern with and support for increased stringency regarding annoying and offensive noise. Residents have shared accounts of noise and party-related disasters, college students have argued that the proposal unfairly targets their parties, and landlords have opposed measures that punish them for the behavior of their tenants.

These concerns culminated last night as the committee revised their proposal, making notable adjustments to the punishments that landlords can receive as a result of violations that occur on their property. As the city law currently stands, landlords are theoretically susceptible to fines and jail time if their tenants violate noise ordinances. While such penalties have never been enforced and the committee’s proposal significantly eased these punishments, landlords continued to object to any punishment that they could receive for their tenants’ behavior.

“Finding one citizen responsible for the actions of another is absurd,” said Larry Beck, a Collegetown landlord, as he addressed the committee last night.

While those in favor of maintaining consequences for landlords maintain that the possibility of punishment encourages landlords to remain vested in their properties and in the communities they serve, landlords argued that it is actually very difficult to contractually enforce acceptable behavior in rent contracts, “The eviction process is so long and tedious that students are gone before the process is done,” said Kyle Couchman, a Collegetown landlord’s representative.

Heeding these concerns, the committee revised their ordinance by proposing to issue a warning to landlords upon the first two noise offenses. According to the revised proposal, warnings will be issues to landlords upon first and second violations.

Landlords in attendance were pleased with the revisions, saying that the proposal no longer antagonizes landlords but considers them concerned members of the communities that they serve.

“I’m pleased on two levels,” said Chris Anagnost ’65. “The committee realized that landlords support the noise ordinance and want to maintain a comfortable level of living in the Collegetown neighborhood, [and that] landlords want to be cooperative.”

“A lot of communities don’t get involved [in these issues] until kids get killed,” added Couchman.

Another topic of debate was the magnitude of fines. Adjusting punishments to reflect what some committee members feel is a relatively important issue, minimum fines were increased to $150, $200 and $250 for first, second and third violations respectively.

Currently, first and second violations are subject to the same $100 minimum.

“I think its important that we have higher fines because this is an issue that we take seriously,” said Pam Macesey ’89, chair of the committee.

In addition, the committee eliminated a clause that considers each half-hour of noise violation a separate offense.

Many students remain concerned that the proposed ordinance directly and unfairly targets their parties.

“It still seems to target students unfairly,” said Devan Musser ’05, addressing the committee. Proposing an alternative to the ordinance, Musser suggested increasing student involvement in the community by inviting them to take on a greater role in the Collegetown Neighborhood Council.

The committee voted in favor of the proposed ordinance, three to one, with Michael Taylor ’05 voting against it.

Archived article by Ellen Miller
Sun Senior Writer