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Raising the volume in the fight for quiet

Brookline residents Nancy Heller (left) and Eunice White have proposed a bylaw to level civil penalties against noisy parties. Brookline residents Nancy Heller (left) and Eunice White have proposed a bylaw to level civil penalties against noisy parties. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)
By Andreae Downs
Globe Correspondent / March 31, 2010

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For years, they’ve lost sleep to the loud music and drunken rowdiness they blame on some of the college students who rent apartments in their midst. Now residents of North Brookline want to hit the perpetrators and their absentee landlords in the pocketbook.

Contending that criminal enforcement can only go so far, a group of residents is proposing a town bylaw that would impose civil penalties of up to $300 for party-related nuisances and underage drinking.

And here’s a weapon that might bring students into line: Their college, and even Mom and Dad, would be notified as well.

“We fight this problem every year,’’ said Eunice White, one of the proposal’s authors, who lives on Pleasant Street. “We need everyone’s attention.’’

Co-author Nancy Heller said the parties go beyond the inconvenience of one night and often leave nasty reminders — from beer bottles and the smell of urine on quiet residential streets to vomit on the front walk.

Another supporter, Evelyn Roll, told of a hearing-impaired friend who could hear the wild parties in her apartment without her hearing aids.

“Students are welcome in Brookline, but not these behaviors,’’ Heller said. “When young children are woken up almost every night it is a nightmare for the family.’’

The efforts are the latest example of how Massachusetts communities are cracking down on behavior that arrives each fall along with the thousands of students who attend the region’s universities. Similar laws exist in Boston and Amherst.

The Brookline proposal would allow police to levy a fine of $100 against party hosts and guests for the first incident and ramp it up to $300 for a subsequent violation, when landlords would be fined $300 and held liable, as well — unless they are actively working to evict the tenants.

“This would give us some teeth,’’ said Lieutenant Phil Harrington of the Brookline Police Department, noting that officers responded to more than 1,000 calls about loud parties or noise last year. Being able to notify and fine landlords is “huge. That part is welcome.’’

In Amherst, where the fine for a first offense is $300, police said they’ve found the year-old law so effective that they have yet to issue a second ticket at the same address. “We respond to hundreds of noise complaints each year,’’ said police Captain Jennifer Gundersen. “We use this for extreme situations.’’

A Boston ordinance passed in 2005 allows police to impose $300 penalties for after-hours parties where alcohol is sold. This school year, 51 tickets have been issued in Allston and Brighton, according to community service officer Neal Manning.

“The option still exists to make arrests, but that ties up a car for transport to the station,’’ he said. “This way can be effective because it costs people money.’’

Brookline police already patrol student neighborhoods from Thursday through Sunday, work closely with college administrators, and distribute educational materials to students every September. The new bylaw, which will be put to a vote at Town Meeting on May 25, would be one more tool for police.

“The behavior we are targeting is already criminal under state law,’’ Heller said. “But we’re not interested in having kids jailed or giving them a permanent criminal record. We just want peace and quiet.’’

Harold Brown, whose Hamilton Co. owns several large rental properties in Brookline and Boston, agreed.

“I don’t think any landlord wants large, loud parties,’’ he said. Hamilton bought Dexter Park, which has many student tenants and was a regular source of complaints. According to neighbors, it no longer is.

“We put in extra security guards on weekends and security cameras in the halls,’’ said Brown, a Brookline resident. “Tenants who violate our rules get evicted. I think anything that keeps the neighbors happy is good.’’

Many of the students who temporarily call Brookline home attend nearby Boston University. About 3,000 out of 15,000 BU students live off campus, according to spokesman Colin Riley.

Newbury College has two off-campus dorms in Brookline that are supervised, according to spokeswoman Linda Richards. Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn said he was unaware of any BC students living off campus in Brookline.

BU students had mixed reactions when told about the proposed ordinance.

“I agree there should be a strict noise code,’’ said Paul Tracy, a senior who was picnicking with three other students at Knyvet Square. But he didn’t think a bylaw would put an end to what many consider normal undergraduate behavior. “College kids want outlets, and will risk it.’’

His friend Matt DiVito, also a senior, agreed.

“I think kids will do what they want to do, even if it’s not allowed,’’ he said.

Both students live off campus in Brookline, to save on the approximately $12,000 BU charges for nine months of dorm living.

Stephen Elrod, a BU sophomore who lives in Allston, said that notifying parents of the violations is “silly.’’

“Students are adults, living in their own house, and dealing with issues as adults,’’ he said. “It’s not their parents’ concern.’’

Andreae Downs can be reached at andreaedowns@yahoo.com.

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