Proposed legislation could target off-campus parties

By: Cody Boteler, Senior Editor

Hosting off-campus parties would become more difficult for Towson students under a bill being considered by the Baltimore County Council. The bill proposes a two-year pilot program wherein “unruly social gatherings” would be prohibited and declared a nuisance.

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.

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.

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

County Councilman David Marks, whose district includes Towson University, is sponsoring the legislation. He said that the pilot area was chosen because it has a high number of rental units.

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.”

A letter from the SGA to Marks noted that there are already several ordinances about nuisances that could be “better enforced to avoid having to create a new one.”

The pilot program, currently, only covers the geographic area right next to Towson University. Other Baltimore County colleges, like Stevenson University, Goucher College, Community College of Baltimore County, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, are not as likely to be as affected.

County Councilman Tom Quirk, whose district includes UMBC’s campus, said in an email that “we are considering a possible amendment to add in parts of Arbutus as well to the pilot program.”

Quirk added that there aren’t as many complaints from the community in Arbutus in regard to “unruly gatherings” but that expanding the pilot area would be “another arrow in the quiver” to help police with enforcement.

The bill was discussed in a work session Jan. 12 and will likely be voted on at the council’s Jan. 19 meeting. The spring semester doesn’t start at Towson until Jan. 25, and campus is relatively empty until move in on Jan. 23-24.

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 of of Towson University officials and community members alike, for “several months.”

Towson University has not taken a stance on the bill.

In the letter, the SGA cited several instances of Towson students being involved and engaged in the community, including over one million total hours of community service in 2015.

In his response letter, Marks said that, despite recent improvements, “there are still incidents that disrupt established neighborhoods near Towson University.”

Marks offered several points of defense for the legislation, including police officer discretion on whether or not to issue a citation and the fact that if found guilty, a host would be facing a civil violation, not a criminal one.

Marks also said the target area for the pilot program is “an area with multiple problems.”  As the legislation being proposed in Baltimore County mirrors existing policies in Baltimore City, Marks said that students who live in the city are “presumably” familiar with this type of policy.

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 the meeting.

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

At the Baltimore County work session where the legislation was discussed, a dozen people spoke in support of the bill—nobody testified against.

The next Baltimore County Council meeting is scheduled for Jan 19 at 6 p.m. on the second floor of the Baltimore County Historic Court House located at 400 Washington Ave.

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