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Noise police 

How to keep the peace

After a long day at the office, sometimes the only evening activity that sounds tempting involves a cushy couch, a grease-soaked box of Chinese takeout and the remote control. Well, maybe this qualifies as evening inactivity, but it's tempting nonetheless: Imagine coming home and sliding out of your shoes and socks. Wiggle your toes—that worn carpet in the den feels nice against your bare feet, doesn't it? Take off your jacket and un-tuck your oxford; give those shoulders a good roll. Men, loosen your ties. Hell, take them off and toss them to the floor. Throw yourself, melodramatically of course, across the sofa cushions and switch on the TV. The night is yours. You have three unwatched episodes of 24 recorded on DVR. You have a steaming batch of Kung Pao chicken and three (count 'em, three) eggrolls all to yourself. It's Friday; you have no work in the morning. You have....

Oh yeah, neighbors.

It starts low: the soft boom of bass and a few voices. Laughter floats across the yard, seeping through windows and walls and interfering with Jack Bauer's inspiring monologue. You turn up the volume.

Around 10 p.m., as you fast-forward through a commercial break, the ruckus begins to pick up. Music swells, laughter peals and girls shriek. Something shatters. Closing your eyes, you hope against hope it wasn't your taillight; the left one was just replaced last month after a hit-and-run encounter with a Bud Light bottle.

Such is life in the quiet, tree-lined neighborhoods of college towns, those strained cross-sections of society where rowdy coeds and business types meet. A social anthropologist's dream.

Tension heightened in Durham several years ago when then Duke University President Nannerl Keohane decided students wouldn't be allowed to consume alcohol on East Campus. Kegs would be permitted on upperclassman-dominant West Campus, but only if purchased from a Duke catering service and served by campus bartenders who checked IDs. The increasing cost and frustration of on-campus drinking drove many student parties off of Duke's grounds and into Durham's neighborhoods.

This infiltration crept first into Trinity Park, a historic Durham neighborhood rubbing elbows with East Campus. Separated from the Blue Devils by only a low stone wall, Trinity Park is home to blocks of charming family homes, picket fences and shady backyards. It is also home to 610 N. Buchanan Blvd., the infamous lacrosse house where a certain party got out of hand last year. You may have heard about it. We won't get into the details; the relevant point here is that the public eye has focused on student behavior in residential neighborhoods, and the view isn't always pleasant.

It's not just Durham, either; Raleigh neighborhoods such as Avent West pushed on several occasions for city zoning regulations to change the definition of a "family" so that no more than two unrelated people could rent half a duplex or a house together, a restriction that would all but eliminate the overcrowded student housing permeating residential neighborhoods. The non-family cohabitation cutoff currently remains at four, but Raleigh's Neighborhood Preservation Task Force continues to make other recommendations to the City Council concerning problem rental properties.

This is not to say that boisterous students are criminals, or that older homeowners are innocent victims. There's nothing wrong with social get-togethers or decent stereo systems, and adults are fully capable of getting out of hand at their own shindigs. Students, also, are occasionally irritated by too much noise -- keg stand chants and "Jessie's Girl" sing-alongs aren't exactly conducive to studying for a midterm.

In light of all this, and since conceptions of common courtesy don't always match up from person to person (or from generation to generation), it seems reasonable to provide a few basic facts about nuisance laws in the Triangle area.

Consider this a cheat sheet to use on those occasions when you're not sure whether those two volume notches you conceded will appease your neighbor's "keep it down" request, or on those occasions when those two volume notches your neighbor conceded don't appease you. Note that this information is based on Raleigh regulations; laws in other cities may diverge a bit, but these are still useful as basic guidelines.

Noise: If the music from a car can be heard more than 50 feet from the vehicle, the driver could be charged with a misdemeanor, carrying a maximum fine of $500 and a jail sentence of up to 30 days.

Problem Properties: Maintenance issues, dangerous electrical wiring or fire hazards, noise, overflowing trashcans, abandoned vehicles and criminal activity are all reason for neighborly concern. The first party to contact should be the landlord, since most landlords want their properties in good condition but may not have the time or resources to keep an eye on every house they own. If the landlord fails to respond, there are several options:

  1. If the problem is noise or disorderly behavior, call the cops.

  2. If the problem concerns criminal activity, call 911.

  3. If the problem is a cluttered or overgrown property, call the Housing and Environmental Division (807-5110).

  4. If the problem is you and your housemates, clean up your act and quiet down. It'll save you a lot of trouble in the long run.

What happens when a complaint is called in:

  1. An inspector or police officer will visit the property and investigate. For police-related matters, a warning or citation will be issued. For building inspections concerns, an order will be issued to bring the property into compliance.

  2. A certain period of time will be allowed for the property owner to fix the problem.

  3. If the property owner does not comply within 10 days, he must acquire a Probationary Rental Occupancy Permit Ordinance (PROP). A PROP is also required if two citations resulting in convictions for nuisance parties or noise violations are issued within a two-year period at a single address, or if three citations are issued at a single address within two years. A PROP requires a $500 registration fee and a $500 annual fee, and the property owner is required to participate in a landlord training program during the first year of probation. If no further violations occur during the two-year permit period, the PROP expires.(For landlords, this means: Keep your tenants on a tight leash. For tenants, this means: Watch out for your landlords. This is why so many leases are so strict; if the tenant messes up, the landlord is the one facing legal action.)


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