There are bound to be conflicts when college students, young professionals, families, and older residents all call the same neighborhoods home, especially when it comes to noise levels at night. One resident’s idea of hanging out after dinner can sound more like an ill-timed romp to the people on the other side of a thin plaster wall.
That’s why city officials, university administrators, and neighborhood associations in places like the North End, Allston, and Brighton must encourage landlords, student groups, and residents to keep lines of communication open. Familiarity prevents some problems and makes others easier to resolve.
But instead of bringing residents together, the City Council is poised to pass a new ordinance that would jack up the penalties for boisterous behavior, targeting young people and, for the first time, their landlords with hefty fines. Police officers who are called to a loud party could slap a $100 ticket not only on the hosts but the attendees as well. In addition, the property’s landlord would be notified, as would university officials if the offenders were students partying off campus. If a second offense occurs at the same property within a year, the residents, party organizers, any party attendee — and, this time, the landlord — could be given a steep $300 fine. (Landlords could get out of that fine if they are taking steps to fix the problem, for example by promising to evict the tenants or hire private security guards.)
Supporters argue the ordinance would give the city an enforcement tool with real teeth, and will help send a message to disengaged absentee landlords. City Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, the ordinance’s author, says it should help spark a conversation between landlords and tenants.
But the dialogue these rules start won’t be a constructive one. It could make some landlords less likely to rent to young people in general, not just the most problematic ones. That would be a problem in a city where young workers already struggle to find affordable apartments. The measure could also increase animosity between police and students.
In a recent public hearing about the ordinance — a hearing conspicuously lacking in young voices — city councilors repeatedly brought up two concerns that are worth tackling, just in different form. The first was the age-old complaint that some young revelers don’t know or care how obnoxious they seem. That problem should be solved by better enforcement of existing laws. At the hearing, a police officer admitted that it can takes hours for officers to respond to noise complaints. Those response times should be improved.
The second problem is that some of the worst noise complaints come from the same properties with disengaged landlords. When these landlords are called in to discuss the matter with city officials, councilors said, they don’t show. The council should find a mechanism to punish landlords who blow off these meetings.
Young people move to Boston because they believe the city has much to offer them. But students and young professionals also have a lot to offer the city. The City Council shouldn’t pass a harsh measure targeting them when current laws are already strong enough.