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Iowa City councilors set to discuss disorderly house proposal

BY BRENT GRIFFITHS | AUGUST 20, 2012 6:30 AM

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A locked door.

Currently, this barrier separates a loud residential party from being cited by the police as a disorderedly house.

However, an ordinance that will appear in front of the Iowa City City Council on Tuesday would make a disorderly house a civil offense that could be enforced without opening the door to the police, and councilors say they are concerned.

“[Disorderly houses] is a concern that needs to be addressed,” City Councilor Jim Throgmorton said. “I know from living in the North Side neighborhood for 20 years and having talks with people who live in other core neighborhoods that occasionally people will get loud and boisterous and drink, sometimes too much. They have also told me of specific houses and specific parties where this occurs. I like good parties, but it is important that they are conducted in a way that is compatible with the residential environment.”

According to an Iowa City police report, there were 273 disorderly housing citations issued in 2010, 244 in 2011.

Stan Laverman, one city senior housing inspector, said the ordinance would create a process in which a founded complaint from police is forwarded onto housing inspecting department.      
The enforcement would be a civil citation resulting in a fine of $750 for the first offense and $1,000 for subsequent offenses.  A third offense could result in city staff asking said person’s landlord to seek eviction of all tenants cited, Laverman said.

Housing inspectors would request a copy of the Iowa City Information and Disclosure form, which has been required at the signing of a lease since 2003. Then, one citation of $750 would be issued to all tenants listed on the disclosure form for the first citation.  If landowners are unable to provide the form, they may be cited, which would also count as the first strike to a reduced rental permit.
Because tenants sign a lease binding them together, this makes it difficult to distinguish responsible tenants if not all were present during the time of the complaint.

“A lease typically holds all tenants in common, much like this ordinance would,” Laverman said in an email. “As such all tenants would be responsible for the actions taking place at their residence. That being said, I’m not a machine and will use my discretion as these citations move forward. Hopefully, the tenants responsible for the party will stand up at that time and pay the fine.”

City Councilor Rick Dobyns said he is concerned about how it will affect privacy of the tenants involved, and if the police will be able to use the ordinance to enter the house regardless of if the tenants open the door.

“My understanding of the law is that there has to be some justification before intrusion occurs,” he said. “[Disorderly houses] are a problem, but invasion of privacy is as well.”

Citizens will have a chance to weigh in on the ordinance during the City Council meeting Tuesday.

“I pay close attention to what people say or write, and if students or anyone else has concerns with the ordinance they need to convey them,” Throgmorton said.


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