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North End residents support ordinance that would fine landlords for unruly tenants

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  October 26, 2012 02:22 PM

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BPD at noise ordinance hearing.jpg

(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)

Boston police Sergeant Thomas Lema, Captain Thomas Lee, and Deputy Superintendent Steven Whitman testified at the hearing before the City Council’s Committee on Government Operations.

Residents of the North End and other Boston neighborhoods spoke out Thursday in favor of a proposed city ordinance that would fine landlords whose tenants cause repeated noise problems, even as some young people asked the city to draw a distinction between creative expression and out-of-control partying.

“The noise is really getting out of hand,” said Nicole Rafter, who lives on Prince Street in the North End. “I think it’s hurting the quality of life; it’s hurting the property values.”

Residents of the densely packed North End neighborhood, which has become increasingly popular among college students and young professionals, described loud 4 a.m. parties, vomit on doorways, broken bottles on streets, and other nuisances at Thursday’s hearing before the City Council’s Committee on Government Operations.

“It is not unusual of late, unfortunately, to be walking down the street and be hit with a lit cigarette, to be sprayed with urine coming off the rooftops, in addition to beer bottles,” said one woman who described herself as a lifelong North End resident.

City Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, an East Boston native who represents that neighborhood, the North End, and Charlestown, filed the proposed nuisance control ordinance in August in an effort to curb late-night disturbances in the North End and other city neighborhoods.

LaMattina and others said Thursday officials need to communicate to young residents that loud noise and drunken misbehavior affect their neighbors and communicate to landlords that they have a responsibility to see that tenants are not creating problems in the community.

“I’m hoping that it will bring a dialogue with landlords, with residents, and the police of the city,” LaMattina said of the ordinance.

The ordinance would, for the first offense, impose a $100 fine on the resident, the organizer, and any attendees of a loud party responsible for creating a public nuisance. On a second or subsequent offense within one year of the first, a $300 fine would be levied against all the above, plus the owner of the property.

LaMattina said fining landlords for disorderly parties would compel them to pay attention and take action. Most of the properties where tenants cause repeated noise violations, he said, are owned by absentee landlords who may live in another state or even outside the country.

When their tenants create a nuisance, LaMattina said, the council’s neighborhood problem-property task forces invite them to discuss the issues, but not all are cooperative. Some get angry and “use four-letter words against me” when he speaks to them, LaMattina said.

Boston police officers testified that they have increased patrols in the North End to deal with noise complaints, but they are unable to do anything to landlords, they said. Officers send warning letters to landlords, Sergeant Thomas Lema said, but no current law requires them to respond.

“We’re looking for accountability from these landlords,” Lema said.

City Councilors Mark Ciommo, Matt O'Malley, Ayanna Pressley, and Michael P. Ross voiced their support of the ordinance Thursday, but they were careful to note that landlords who were responsible and cooperated with efforts to address tenant problems would not be penalized.

On the first offense, property owners would be notified by mail and would not be fined unless the second offense took place at least two weeks after that mailing. Owners would not be held responsible if they were working with police and city officials to address problem tenants or were pursuing eviction.

Ross told the story of a Mission Hill landlord who owns several buildings and rents only to college students because he can charge around $1,000 per bedroom, more than he could get by renting to a family.

Among those properties are a dozen violations, Ross said, “And he does not care. He’s not doing anything to remedy it.”

Two young people at the hearing asked city officials to consider that not all loud music detracts from the community; they said music is part of Boston’s culture and can bring people together in positive ways.

Liz Pelly, a music editor at the Phoenix, said she lives with musicians who sometimes play late into the night, but they are respectful of their neighbors, some of whom are elderly, and communicate plans in advance.

There is no alcohol served in the house, Pelly said, because they want to offer an alternative to hearing music in bars.

Ethan Long, a Suffolk University student, said young people sometimes feel marginalized and harassed by police and that their rights should be respected. He asked that police consider the sources and reasons for loud music and not treat an orderly gathering of music fans the same way they would an out-of-control party.

North End resident and business owner Mark Petrigno said often the problem is that young people move into the city having grown up in the suburbs and don’t understand that expectations are different when they share walls, floors, and ceilings with other residents.

Petrigno said he’s seen students move out of the North End because they couldn’t stand to live next to other students who had loud parties regularly. But he will stay and continue the fight for peace and quiet.

“Defending this neighborhood is going to be the death of me, because I won’t back down,” Petrigno said.

Email Jeremy C. Fox at jeremy.fox@globe.com.
Follow Jeremy C. Fox on Twitter: @jeremycfox.
Follow the North End on Twitter: @YourNorthEnd.

Janet Gilardi at noise ordinance hearing.jpg

(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)

North End resident Janet Gilardi testified about noise problems in the neighborhood as other residents looked on.

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