Noisy Neighbors Get Noticed in Narragansett

noisy neighborsIn the sleepy seaside community of Narragansett, R. I., noisy neighbors get a 10-by-14-inch orange sticker slapped on the front door of their homes. Now some landlords are raising the volume of their complaints about the ordinance that permits the stickers to be posted, arguing they lower real estate values and the rents they can charge tenants.

A recent court ruling determined that renters' and homeowners' constitutional rights were not violated by the branding from the 2005-enacted ordinance that allows police to post the stickers when residents are "loud and unruly to the point that they constitute a threat to the peace, health, safety, or general welfare of the public."

The town council blames student renters who flock to the seasonal housing for throwing rowdy parties that encourage lawbreaking, such as underage drinking and fighting. Some landlords and homeowners testifying at court worry about the impact on their property values or ability to rent out units to other tenants, reports Courthouse News Service.

The town says that a public nuisance is when there is "a gathering of five or more persons on any private property in a manner which constitutes a substantial disturbance of the quiet enjoyment of private or public property in a significant segment of a neighborhood, as a result of conduct constituting a violation of law. Illustrative of such unlawful conduct is "excessive noise or traffic, obstruction of public streets by crowds or vehicles, illegal parking, public drunkenness, public urination, the service of alcohol to minors, fights, disturbances of the peace, and litter," a previous court ruling stated.

When it's put that way, who'd want such behavior in their neighborhood, potentially bringing down housing values? But landlords who rent to University of Rhode Island students during the school year say the branding is bad for business, because they often can't rent out homes sporting the orange sticker.

Jim Durkin, owner of Durkin Cottage Realty, told AOL Real Estate that only about 5 percent of the students who rent in the town are a problem and he doesn't see the orange stickers as negatively affecting the
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overall values of homes in the town. "The stickers are pretty obvious. Maybe the sticker on the building itself can diminish that home's value, but not the whole neighborhood. If anything, it would help home values," he said. "I don't think we have a lot of situations where it is multiple visits [by the police] after the sticker goes up."

For violations that occur during the school year, any where from September 1 to May 31, the sticker must remain on the home until May 31, regardless of the date of the violation or if the tenancy or homeownership changes. If the violation occurs between June 1 and August 31, the sticker remains on through the end of August. Thus, even if a landlord boots out the tenant, there is no recourse for getting the sticker removed, reported the Narragansett Patch.

"There are a ton of rentals out there and rates are dropping," says rentalreal estate agent Bret Chace of Residential Properties, "but not because of the ordinances, but because this is a real renters market because not as many people are buying homes, [so] owners who can't sell their homes are renting out their homes."

Chace acknowledges that once a home is branded with a sticker, it does deter students from wanting to rent the place, but he also says that most landlords will not evict their tenants due to the shortfall and even if they did, they will more than likely have a clause in their lease that the tenants are still responsible for the rent until the end of the lease term. Many landlords, however, he said, issue their own fines to tenants -- about $100 per occupant -- which is in addition to the up to $500 fine the occupants have to pay to the city.

"The town has long complained of quality-of-life issues resulting from high turnover and absentee landlords," according to a court order that reviewed the constitionality of the law. "Approximately 22 percent of the housing stock in the town consists of 'seasonal or vacation' rental units, attracting many students during the school year, ... [h]owever, all do not welcome their presence."

This appears to be more a power play between year-round residents and the college students.

noisy neighborsTom Morrill, a year-round resident who runs Narragansett Property Management, which focuses only on renting out properties, not selling them, told AOL Real Estate that two of the homes he manages were dinged with the orange stickers last year for having about 100 people inside partying. He did implement his own penalties after that.

"I wrote to their parents and sent them a copy of the law and a copy of the police violation," says Morrill, "and I told the parents I want them to back me up. I told the tenants that on Sunday morning at 8 o'clock they will go out with me in the neighborhood and pick up all the cans and litter. I got the kids and they went out with me and I drove down the street with big boxes in the back of the Explorer and they picked up beer cans and trash and I never had a problem with them since then. Kids hate getting up at 8 a.m. on a Sunday."

"There are 1,500 registered rentals in the town and an untold number that are not registered," said Morrill, who adds that rent averages about $400 to $550 per room. So a four-bedroom home might fetch $2,000 to $2,500 a month, about the same monthly rate that is charged in the summers regardless of the number of occupants.

He is currently seeking tenants for a furnished five-bedroom, two-bath asking $2,625 monthly rent. The home, pictured herein, has an open floor plan, a new three-season sun room, and a Cobblestone patio. It is an eight-mile drive to the university and a couple of blocks from the beach.

He says the homes, mostly built in the 1970s, are a good value compared to the Jersey shore, which can be four or five times more expensive during the summer. "Almost every home is $350,000 to $500,000. It is very easy to rent your house during the summer. It is one of those areas that is undiscovered. It is one of these secrets very few people know about."

Morrill says, "The problems stem from landlords who are absentee landlords [who] don't care about the property, just about the return on investment." He says many of them will just keep a rental deposit to fix the place up at the end of the term without paying much attention to what goes on during the school year.

About 50 percent of the rental properties are owned by absentee landlords who live out of state in New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Connecticut. Another chunk may live elsewhere in Rhode Island, he says.

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