Party hearty and get fined; Council approves changes to nuisance party ordinance

Students and property owners beware; the Flagstaff City Council held the first reading of a series of changes to the city’s nuisance party ordinance Tuesday night.

Council must hold a second reading of the changes before they can become law. The changes would go into effect in June. The only councilmember to vote against the changes was Jeff Oravits, who said he wanted more time to address some of the concerns he had about the changes.

The changes to the ordinance would allow police to cite and fine anyone at a party contributing to making the gathering into a nuisance for other nearby residents.

The ordinance defines a “nuisance party” as a gathering of five or more people on any private property, including a business, that causes “a disturbance of the quiet enjoyment of private or public property by any person or persons.” Actions that can cause a disturbance “include but are not limited to, excessive noise or traffic, obstruction of public streets by crowds or vehicles, drinking in public, the service of alcohol to minors or consumption of alcohol by minors, fighting, disturbing the peace and littering.”

The fine for the first offense is $250; $500 for a second offense within 120 days of the first; and any future offenses after the second violation would cost $1,000 each. The fines increase if criminal activity is happening at the party. Those fines include court costs.

Property owners will not be fined for the first nuisance party on their property, as long as they are not at the party. The city will mail a notice of the first nuisance party to the property owner via certified mail. If a second nuisance party occurs at the property, the city will send a second notice and can fine the property owner within 30 days of the owner getting the notice. The fines are the same as those issued to party goers.

A property owner can apply for a waiver of the fine within 10 business days of receiving the notice. However, they have to show that they have taken steps to prevent future nuisance parties on the property or are in the process of evicting a troublesome tenant. A waiver can also be issued if the property owner signs on to the police department’s Crime Free Multi-Housing Program or if the property owner has more than 100 units and hires private security for the property.

Oravits, who owns a property management company in Flagstaff, wanted city staff to better define what actions a property owner or property management company can take to get a waiver for the fines.

It could take up to five to 20 days to serve and enforce an eviction notice on a tenant, he said.

Assistant City Attorney Marianne Sullivan, who helped draft the changes to the ordinance, said she was concerned about getting too specific with the types of actions that a property owner could take to earn a waiver. Proof of action could include the owner giving tenants a warning that future nuisance parties won’t be tolerated or starting procedures to evict a tenant.

“We’re looking for a partnership with property owners,” said Flagstaff Police Chief Kevin Treadway. “As long as they’re actively trying to participate with us, we’re willing to work with them.”

“We’re not trying to penalize those who are working with us,” Sullivan said. “We’re trying to hold those property owners accountable who are not working with us.”

Deputy Police Chief Walter Miller said the department has already been in contact with Northern Arizona University, the Southside Neighborhood Association and other community groups about the changes.

The information will be included in the packet of information that NAU gives out to students at the start of each school year and will be posted on the city’s website.

“Our policy is to focus on the tenants and those causing the disturbances,” Miller said. “The goal is to partner with property owners and make them aware of what’s going on at their property.”

People who are at a nuisance party but not contributing to the problem will not be fined, he said.

Brian Lee Wilson, who manages a number of homeowners associations and properties around Flagstaff, said he supported the city’s efforts to control some of the wild parties that happen. He said he liked the idea of fining not only the tenant but the party guests who might be causing a problem. He also felt the fines were high enough to get a violator’s attention but not break the bank.

He asked if the city would also send an email to property management companies, instead of or along with a certified letter, so that the companies could address a potential problem tenant more quickly.

Wilson also asked the Council to consider allowing property managers and property owners to get free police reports for violations that have occurred on their properties. Currently, only property owners or managers who are part of the city’s Crime-Free Multi-Family Housing Program get free reports.

Treadway said he was willing to include an email to the property manager, but was not willing to give away police reports for free to owners or managers who were not part of the Crime-Free Housing program. Those free reports were a way for the department to entice property owners and managers to enter the program.

Sullivan suggested that the police report for the nuisance party that created the notice of violation to the owner could be included in the certified mailing.

Wilson also suggesting before granting a fine waiver to a problem property, that the property be reviewed by the police department and a series of recommendations be given to the property owner or manager. The property owner or manager wouldn’t have to follow the recommendations, but if they got another violation, they would have to enter the Crime-Free Housing program.

Mayor Jerry Nabours said he was concerned about the liability the city might have with police reviewing properties.

“I think the key is to bring owners into the equation,” he said. “Some owners don’t really care as long as the tenants pay the rent.”

 

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