County council votes to implement pilot program that would penalize hosts for unruly parties

By: Cody Boteler, Senior Editor

In a unanimous Jan. 19 vote, the Baltimore County Council decided to enact a “pilot program” in parts of Baltimore County wherein “unruly social gatherings” will be declared a nuisance—and punishable by fines starting at $500.

Under the legislation, both tenants and landlords could be punished if a police officer decides to write a citation. Penalties for the “responsible person,” or party host, start at a $500 fine and 20 hours of community service. Penalties for subsequent citations can get as high $1,000 and 48 hours, respectively.

Property owners, too, can face fines up to $1,000 and potential revocation or suspension of their rental license.

“We have to hold the adults responsible,” Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said at a Jan. 12 county council work session.

The amended version of the legislation changed the definition of an “unruly social gathering” to necessitate at least four or more people, instead of two, provided exemptions from the penalties in the case of sexual assault or domestic abuse victims and gave more protection for property owners whose tenants are fined.

As the proposed legislation is a pilot program, it does not affect the entire county. The area includes, among other neighborhoods, Cardiff Hall Apartments and Donnybrook Apartments.

A map showing the proposed pilot area in Towson. Photo illustration by Cody Boteler/The Towerlight.
A map showing the proposed pilot area in Towson. Photo illustration by Cody Boteler/The Towerlight.

County Councilman David Marks, whose district includes Towson University, sponsored the legislation along with County Councilman Tom Quirk. Marks said that the original pilot area was chosen because it has a high number of rental units.

The amended version of the bill that passed the council vote expanded the pilot program to include part of Arbutus, next to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County campus. According to Quirk, who spoke before the council voted, residents of Arbutus requested that the pilot program include them.

Marks said that the legislation “passes legal luster” when asked if he thought there was any credence to the claims by some—including Towson’s Student Government Association—that the bill “unfairly targets” Towson students.

“If you’re not a student and you’re involved in unruly behavior, you can also be cited,” Marks said. “It’s not just students.”

After the bill’s passage, the SGA released a statement saying that they would “continue to monitor the status of this law and its execution.”

“The SGA is hopeful that the concerns of both Towson students and our gracious local neighbors can continue to be addressed through a positive and constructive dialogue, which serves to benefit everyone who lives in Towson and the greater Baltimore area,” the statement said.

The bill was discussed in a work session Jan. 12 and was voted on at the council’s Jan. 19 meeting. The spring semester wasn’t scheduled to start at Towson until Jan. 25, and campus was relatively empty until this week.

Marks said that the timing of the bill was not to intentionally cut Towson students out of the conversation, but a matter of pragmatism.

“We wanted it to be in effect for the spring semester,” Marks said.

Marks also said that this type of policy and issues have been in discussion with the University Relations Committee, made up of Towson University officials and community members alike, for “several months.”

Towson University has not taken a stance on the bill. President Kim Schatzel said that it was a situation she’d have to catch up on and pay attention to.

Thomas Tompsett, a representative for the Maryland Multi-Housing Association, which represents landlords, said that his organization originally opposed the bill, but supports it with the amendment that allows property owners to appeal citations if they’re taking steps to show that they’re attempting to deal with tenants.

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