Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
January 21, 2022

Noise ordinance causes confusion and controversy

By Peter Sicher | November 30, 2009

Violations of the Neighborhood Nuisance ordinance have resulted in arrest, confusion and controversy for Hopkins students living in Charles Village.

Enacted in 2007, the ordinance states that if the police write two reports about a residence's excessive noise within a six month period, the city can take action against its tenants or owners.

Confusion still surrounds the ordinance, with many unsure how many reports have been written, and others unaware of what actions the city police can be taken after violations.

While Greek Life Coordinator Rob Turning wrote in an e-mail to The News-Letter that he was not aware of any Hopkins students receiving noise warnings, the Baltimore Police Department said that some Hopkins students had police reports written about their excessive noise.

"We've had some. I wouldn't say it's excessive. It has been an issue earlier in the school year. It has kind of tailed off a little bit. We do have some [houses] that are [still] an issue," said Jonathan Walters, a community relations officer with the Northern District of the Baltimore Police Department.

The department would not provide The News-Letter with the exact number of reports filed.

"The bulk of the problems are on the University Parkway corridor, where we have the conflict between students and long-term residents," Northern District Community Relations Officer Doug Gibson said.

The police are not required inform residents if they have a noise related police report written about them.

"When you're talking about the nuisance ordinance, it can just be a matter of a police report. It isn't necessarily a warning. We don't have to give them a warning. If they have a police report, if the police come and write a report, that's considered a strike. The occupants of the house may not even be aware that a report was written," Gibson said.

Hopkins students have reportedly been arrested because of noise-related incidents. One senior who asked to remain anonymous was imprisoned due to reports of excessive noise over the summer.

"It was absolutely capricious, and in my opinion just a tactic to placate neighbors who were likely looking on," he wrote in an e-mail to The News-Letter.

According to the student, he and another student resident of the house were escorted from their house and were "told that we were being arrested for disorderly conduct." The student said that upon arriving at the jail, he was told that no charges would be filed against either of them.

Despite the night in jail, the student does see some merit to the nuisance ordinance.

"The noise ordinance is probably a good thing. I just wish I knew what the actual rules were. They seem to change all the time. There has to be a way that college students can have their friends over for a beer without angering the entire world," he wrote.

According to Student Community Liaison Carrie Bennett, the ordinance has not been strictly enforced.

"I am not certain the ordinance has really been 'enforced' since I know of no one that has been taken to court," she wrote in an e-mail to The News-Letter.

City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has also been disappointed by the effectiveness of the noise ordinance.

"The Council President supports ordinances that provide additional enforcement tools to communities to address nuisances, Ryan O'Doherty, Rawlings-Blake's Director of Policy and Communication, wrote in an e-mail to The News-Letter. "The 'Neighborhood Nuisance' ordinance, however, has not been as effective."

According to O'Doherty, Rawlings-Blake is considering ways to strengthen the nuisance, but did not give specific examples of what that would entail.

Gibson believed that the Neighborhood Nuisance ordinance has been helpful in reducing excessive noise.

"It does help. It's not so much that the students are afraid of it, [since] they're just going to get kicked out. The landlord is the one that risks having their property shut down and losing their revenue for a year. It gives us a lot more leverage with the landlord to make sure they're not trying to over-occupy the house and that they are not just renting to anybody. Certain houses are probably more suited for graduate students than five guys that are first time living off campus," he said.

Walter also felt that the ordinance "has been a benefit to the community."Students living in the "Water Polo House," a residence on the 100 Block of 32nd St., have been involved in several noise related incidents.

"A couple times the police came to our door when we were watching a Monday Night Football game with a couple friends. Other times they have come when we were away the whole weekend for a tournament. Other times we were getting f--king rowdy and deserved it," house resident Reid Fox wrote in an e-mail to The News-Letter.

Fox feels that the ordinance itself is not necessary.

"Charles Village is a college town, whether people around here like it or not. It's only going to continue to expand as the school continues to grow. As far as their effectiveness, a noise complaint doesn't really mean anything to us. If a neighbor wants us to keep the noise down, just call and ask. Easy as that," he wrote.

While the noise ordinance authorizes the city to take legal action, including eviction, against people causing excessive noise, that is not the only response the city can take.

"That could be a penalty but I don't think it's mandatory," Walter said.

According to Walter, the police prefer to work out issues without necessarily getting the court system involved.

"We try to resolve it through our community relations office-going out and talking to the parties, advising them of the nuisance ordinances and what the possible penalties are. A lot of times that resolves it. The next step is mediation," he said.

If the police continue to receive reports of nuisance violations, however, they can take action through the state attorney's office. However, the city is not required to take action against a residence after two noise-related police reports.

"The two reports alone doesn't mean you automatically get a nuisance action taken against you. You could conceivably get three or four reports and maybe nothing would happen," Gibson said.

Gibson said that action is based on community concern and student reaction to the reports.

"If you had four reports and they are kind of spread out, and the students are not really having too much problems with their neighbors, they're apologetic or maybe it's just a random thing and it's not that big of a deal, they may end up with no action at all."

But some students worried that the houses are being blamed for noise that is not being generated from inside their residence.

"I guess it's just upsetting that when we are being so conscious of keeping the noise down by keeping the music down [and] people off the porch. . . the cops still end up showing up at our house because [of] the people walking in the few blocks around our house," Fox wrote.

The noise ordinance is not an issue for students living in University housing.

"If they are on campus, the campus police and the campus security and the Dean's office and the Housing office can certainly deal with those on an individual basis," Walter said, adding that it would be rare that the Baltimore Police would need to be called in for noise-related issues in Hopkins dormitories.

According to some students, the ordinance makes them more cautious about noise.

Both the University and the police felt they have made efforts to makes sure students are aware of the noise ordinance so they can avoid legal trouble.

"We look to Carrie Bennett and we look to the University to try and nip this stuff in the bud so we don't have to come in and deal with it. We really don't want to go and put students out of their house in the middle of the year or arrest them and send them down to central booking. We really try and do everything we can to avoid that," Gibson said.

Steps include having Bennett, Gibson and a designated officer patrolling around Hopkins.

In addition, Gibson said that District Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke and a neighborhood representative have done a door-to-door informational campaign each fall since the ordinance was enacted.

Clarke could not be reached for comment by The News-Letter before press time.

Turning has also worked to make sure students involved in Greek organizations are aware of the noise ordinance.

"We invite Carrie Bennett to the first Inter-Fraternity Council meeting of each semester. She explains the ordinance, how it is enforced, and the implications of not complying with the ordinance," he wrote.

Bennett also speaks with sorority chapters about the implications for groups of their members living together in Charles Village housing, and will meet on request with individual chapters to talk about the ordinance.

When the ordinance was first passed by the city council, many members of the Hopkins viewed it in a highly negative light.

"This opens itself to abuse. It can became an instrument of neighborhood conflict. People have to realize that cities are noisy and there are plenty of things than could disturb the peace," Political Science Professor Matthew Crenson told The News-Letter in 2007.

Turning claimed that the ordinance would be used to target college students, especially members of fraternities and sororities.

"Because our members wear letters and call themselves a group they have a spotlight on them ... they're more recognizable than three women living in a random house having loud, disruptive events," he told The News-Letter in 2007.

- Additional reporting by Jewel Edwards-Waldo

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