SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Unruly gatherings turning into public nuisances, including excessive noise, public urination and drunkenness and other rowdy behaviors, can get the kibosh under a new proposed local law.
It’s time to crack down on noise in South Kingstown, just as Narragansett did when citizens wanted more peace and quiet in their neighborhoods, town council members have decided.
“The council has heard from a number of folks around town about noise, noise pollution, nuisance behavior, that just doesn’t fit into the neighborhood,” said Robert Zarnetske, South Kingstown town manager.
So, Monday night at 7:30 p.m., the council will hold a public hearing in the town hall, 180 High St., on a new “Unruly Gatherings” ordinance for the town. The public is invited to speak.
The new proposal is a modified version of an ordinance in Narragansett used to control public nuisance issues, often found among renters in this beach community that offers accommodations for long-term winter use and much higher-priced summer vacations.
“What we’ve had is multiple calls (to police),” he said, but the public nuisance behavior continues anyway. “Those are the things that bother people. When you have to call … three or four times and still nothing happens, it’s not good,” Zarnetske said.
At the moment the town relies on state law, which is not as explicit as a town ordinance can be and matters are handled through the state court system. A tougher town law can be more effective, he said.
“Really, the whole idea here is to be able to intervene early and effectively so that you don’t have neighborhood disputes festering,” Zarnetske said.
The ordinance also comes at a time when data from online clearinghouses Airbnb and competitor Vrbo/Homeaway, which offer private home owners online listing of their homes or rooms for rent, have showed a continued rise in South County in uses of these lodgings that compete with hotels and motels.
Under the measure, a public nuisance means a gathering of five or more persons on any private property where conduct occurs that “causes a substantial disturbance of the quiet enjoyment of private or public property in a significant segment of a neighborhood as a result of conduct constituting a violation of law.”
It also describes unlawful conduct as “excessive noise or traffic, obstruction of public streets by crowds of vehicles, illegal parking, public drunkenness, public urination, the service of alcohol to minors, illegal drug use, fights, disturbance of the peace and littering.”
This ordinance doesn’t just point a finger at students living in rentals and attending nearby University of Rhode Island, but also involves non-students as well, he said.
The non-student issues have often involved noise complaints, some parking issues, and occasional public drunkenness, said a few officials familiar with the issues.
The student issues, according to Police Chief Joseph P. Geaber, Jr., are similar and are found in the private rentals around the University of Rhode Island in Kingston.
“This ordinance will help regulate the frequent complaints we receive in those areas and hold the landlords responsible as well as the tenants. The problems were frequent at the beginning of the school year, but have subsided somewhat since enforcement has begun,” he said.
“The new ordinance will help cover violations not addressed in present ordinances,” he added.
In essence, the ordinance means landlords will be under close scrutiny and repeated $500 fines — a motivating factor to keep tenants under control — for “a period beginning on the date of notice of violation and ending three years from that date.”
The same will apply to others who manages property on which a public nuisance occurs and “any person who organizes, hosts, sponsors, permits, or suffers the occurrence of an event constituting a public nuisance.”
Tenants also will be on a list of those held accountable when a violation occurs, regardless of whether they have a short-term summer or longer-term winter rental. Tenants will also face the $500 for the first and any following citations under the measure.
There are some exceptions, such as when any resident of property who was unaware of the public nuisance and was not in attendance on the premises.
In addition, the measure will not hold liable any owner, resident, sponsor, or organizer when a problem is caused by people who did not have their permission to be on the property.
A right to contest any fine, violation or penalty is included through the requirement that a written request be sent to the town manager requesting a determination about whether “justification existed for issuing the fine or notice.”
The written request must be filed no later than 10 days after the police issue the violation notice or no later than 15 days after the postmark of a mailed notice. The town manager must hold the hearing within 30 days after receiving the written request.
In neighboring Narragansett, officials said that a similar town law is working well.
“I will say that the ordinance is just another tool that the town has to deal with quality of life complaints and it works and that’s why other communities inquire about it,” said James Tierney, town manager.
“Our police department monitors this process diligently to keep it an effective tool,” he said.