Iowa City City Council OKs first vote on disorderly house ordinance

BY NATE OTJEN | AUGUST 22, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Iowa City City Council approved the first consideration of an ordinance Tuesday night that would allow city staff to issue civil citations to all tenants of disorderly houses.

The vote was unanimous to continue looking into citing disorderly houses and rental properties.
“We need to solve the problem in the neighborhood — this is the community’s concern,” Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton said. “If they [students] don’t answer the door or are told to, then there’s nothing we can do about it.”

The ordinance to make a disorderly property a civil offense could be enforced without opening the door to police. Most of these disorderly offenses come from college-student parties. With the proposed ordinance, criminal charges will not be filed against everyone at the reported location, only to the present property owner/tenant.

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

As it stands right now, the first offense is enforced with a $750 fine, the second offense is enforced with a $1,000 fine, and the third offense could merit a possible eviction of the person or persons being disorderly.

Doug Boothroy, the director of city housing and inspection services, said the current disorderly house ordinance has been in place since 2003.

“There’s information out there that it’s your right as a tenant to not open your door to the police,” he said.

City Councilor Jim Throgmorton said he believed the determination of what a noise complaint would consist of was too vague.

“It’s still a pretty vague standard, don’t you think?” he said, referring to how officials would define what a noise complaint consisted of.

Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine pointed out on Tuesday night that there are many variables that determine how the police currently cite these disorderly houses such as the time of night the complaint is reported and the demeanor of the people who answer the door.

Hargadine said search warrants typically take two to three hours to produce, and the police have to get the prosecuting attorney and judge to sign off as well before they can act at the disorderly property.

Greg Bal, the director of the University of Iowa Student Legal Service, doesn’t believe the proposed ordinance would sit well with students’ legal rights. He feels confident that if this ordinance would pass, students could go to court and they would win the trial.

“If [the students] don’t answer the door or are told to, then there’s nothing we can do about it,” Bal said. “If police want to enter, they generally have to have a search warrant.”

The city councilors will vote on the second consideration of this ordinance at their next meeting.

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