Back-to-school time in College Park has typically been associated with increased incidence of loud parties and other noise problems. Here is a list of tips Council member Stullich has drafted to address such parties.
If noise disturbances are a problem for you, please know that there are steps you can take to get relief. College Park does have a noise ordinance and noise enforcement program, but it’s important for residents to understand how to use these resources most effectively.
In general, there are five things you can do.
1. Talk with your noisy neighbors and let them know that they are disturbing you. Sometimes this may be sufficient and if your neighbors are responsive, this can get the quickest results.
2. Call the City’s Noise Enforcement Hotline (240-487-3588). This is usually more effective than calling the police, because city noise enforcement officers are more experienced in dealing with noise than is the typical police officer. City noise officers can enforce the city noise ordinance, whereas police officers do not. City noise officers will typically request police backup, so when you call the noise hotline, you are likely to get a response from police as well as code enforcement.
3. File a written complaint with the city’s Noise Control Board. This approach can be effective for those times when calling the noise hotline did not achieve a satisfactory result. The Noise Board will hold a hearing and can issue fines if a violation is found.
4. File a complaint with the UMD Office of Student Conduct (OSC). In 2013, the University extended the Code of Student Conduct to cover behavior that occurs off-campus. Examples of off-campus misconduct that may now be referred to the OSC include “rioting, hazing, theft of property, public intoxication, DUI, sexual assault, illegal drug use, stalking, large parties with excessive noise, and distribution of alcohol to minors.” Anyone can “refer” a case to the OSC. Police and city noise officers sometimes refer cases to the OSC, but residents can do so also, using the form linked below.
5. Call the landlord. Landlords do have a responsibility to ensure that their rental houses are not causing problems for the neighborhood. Phone numbers for most city landlords are available at thttp://www.collegeparkmd.gov/government/public_services/renting_in_CP/rental_property_listing.php#.VeI8Z_lViko.
Below is more detailed information about local noise ordinances, the City’s noise enforcement program, the Code of Student Conduct, and how you can most effectively use these resources to get relief from noise problems.
Local ordinances governing noise
There are both city and county ordinances regarding noise:
· The City of College Park noise ordinance is violated when the noise level exceeds 65 decibels during the day (7 am – 8 pm) or 55 decibels at night (8 pm – 7 am), OR when two or more residents are disturbed by the noise. Violations of the City ordinance are punishable by a fine of $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for the second offense within a six-month period.
· Prince George’s County restricts noise in residential areas that is audible more than 50 feet from its source. County noise restrictions are in effect from 9 pm to 7 am. Violations are punishable by a $250 fine for a first offense and $500 for subsequent offenses (or imprisonment for up to 30 days, but that rarely if ever happens).
College Park noise enforcement program
The city noise enforcement hotline (240-487-3588) is monitored 24-7 by a noise enforcement officer. In addition, the City frequently has a noise enforcement officer on active duty, most commonly on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights (often working late into the early hours of the morning, if needed) and often during the day on Saturday and Sunday. City noise officers carry a decibel meter and if they find the decibel level is over the decibel limit, they will issue a citation and fine. Noise officers also work with the police to quiet the noisemakers and shut down the party if necessary.
If a City noise officer is not on active duty, the officer monitoring the noise hotline will ask the police (usually city contract police officers) to handle the problem. Police officers do not carry decibel meters and are not authorized to enforce the City’s noise ordinance – however, PGPD officers may enforce the county noise ordinance (see attachment).
For all complaints to the noise hotline that provide a specific address, if a violation is not found the City will send a noise warning letter to the occupants and the landlord (if applicable). This letter is not a citation and is not evidence that a noise violation actually occurred, but it can document a history of complaints that can be helpful in applying pressure to repeat “problem houses.”
Please do not hesitate to call the noise hotline. It is very important that the City has accurate data on the extent and location of noise problems in order to identify problem houses and to support funding for the noise enforcement program.
College Park Noise Control Board
If two or more City residents file a written complaint for a specific noise disturbance, the Noise Control Board will hold a hearing to hear testimony from both complainants and defendants. Complaints should be sent to the College Park Noise Control Board at 4500 Knox Road within 15 days after the event.
Although this approach requires more effort on your part, I have seen it be very effective in cases where calling the noise hotline did not achieve a satisfactory result. It is important to include as many details as possible in your complaint – e.g., time, duration, number of people, nature of the noise, what steps you took. Although each noise hearing must focus on one specific incident, if there is a history of prior problems it is good to provide that information as context. Only two complainants are required for the Noise Board to hold a hearing, but having more people participating in a complaint can help to show the severity of the problem.
UMD Office of Student Conduct
As discussed above, residents can “refer” a case to the OSC using the online form atwww.osc.umd.edu/OSC/NonAcademicIncidentReferralForm.aspx. It’s best to provide a detailed description of the problem you experienced, including any supporting evidence such as photos. The OSC Director will decide whether the behavior meets certain criteria to be adjudicated. Cases that might result in expulsion, suspension, or disciplinary removal from University housing will be accorded a hearing before the appropriate conduct board. All other cases will be resolved in the Office of Student Conduct after an informal disciplinary conference. The OSC Director, Andrea Goodwin, has reported that since the CSC was extended off-campus, the OSC has heard more off-campus cases than on-campus cases. She also reported that 1) OSC referrals are handled very promptly, usually within a few weeks, 2) the students referred to the OSC generally did not deny that the alleged misconduct had occurred, and 3) so far the OSC has not had any repeat referrals for the same student or household.
CSC proceedings are covered under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), so the results of the proceedings will not be made public – this means that the complainant will not find out what happened as a result of their complaint. Unlike a city Noise Board hearing, you will probably not be invited to the OSC proceedings, so you need to put all of the information in your written complaint/referral. For problems such as raucous parties, we should not expect that severe consequences will be administered for a first offense. However, the OSC Director, Andrea Goodwin, has stated that they emphasize to the students in such proceedings that the OSC takes these kinds of misconduct very seriously and that any future incidents will receive more serious sanctions that could be very harmful to them, and it appears that in at least some cases, specific behavior problems leading to the OSC referral improved after the referrals.
Tips for getting results
· Identify the source of the noise. It is most effective if you can identify the specific address that is causing the noise problem.
· Be accurate. It is essential to always be accurate and not make assumptions about where the noise is coming from. Your credibility is your most important asset.
· Be persistent. If you get a recording rather than a “live person” when you call the noise hotline, do not give up – that usually means the noise officer is handling another call. Leave a message with the details of the problem. If the noise continues after an hour, call again. Some problem households will quiet down when the noise officer arrives and start up again after he leaves; in such cases, persistence is key.
· Ask for the noise officer to call you back. If you leave a message on the noise hotline, ask for the noise officer to call you back. You don’t have to give your name if you would prefer to remain anonymous. It is often helpful/reassuring to be able to speak to the noise officer so that you can give them more details and learn what they are doing in response to a complaint.
· Consider asking the noise officer to take a decibel reading from your property line. Sometimes a loud party in a back yard may not cause a decibel reading over the limit when the reading is done from the street in front of the house – even though the noise level you are hearing from your house is much louder. You can ask the noise officer to come to your door so that you can take them to your rear (or side yard) property line adjacent to the noise disturbance. This requires more effort on your part but can sometimes achieve a better result.
· Keep notes about the details of the noise disturbance. Important details include date and time/duration of the disturbance, nature of the noise (e.g., amplified music, yelling, etc.), estimated number of people involved, who you called and when, and if anyone responded (to your knowledge)). Hopefully the first warning or fine will do the trick, but if the problem continues, then it may be helpful to have some supporting documentation down the road.
· Check the City’s online Property Violation Search to see the history of complaints and violations for a specific address: http://www.collegeparkmd.gov/government/public_services/code_violation_search.php.
Noise is a significant problem in our community, and I am committed to helping residents address this problem. Please feel free to contact me about specific ongoing problems.