The flood of application packets and mobs of students touring open houses signal the start to the off-campus house-hunting season. This year however, student tenants come armed with another piece of knowledge — where the parties are.
In 2005, the city of Santa Cruz put into law municipal code 9.37, otherwise known as the Loud and Unruly Gathering Ordinance. It empowered police to cite homes that were deemed loud or unruly to the degree that they constituted “a threat to public health, safety, quiet enjoyment of residential property, or general welfare.” In other words, the police could do more than just break up loud house parties. They could fine them.
Now, at many community members’ request, the Santa Cruz Police Department (SCPD) is making the list of cited homes available to the public through the Santa Cruz city website.
Fines incurred due to violations of the ordinance double with each additional citation, from $250 to as high as $1,000, not including response and service charges by the police. Houses that are cited as violating the ordinance remain on the list for an entire year, regardless of whether or not the tenants’ lease expires. This means that a new tenant’s first violation of the ordinance could potentially cost them as much as $1,000.
The ordinance and its terms — as well as the subsequent decision to publicize the homes cited — was formed and supported by community collaboration. Local nonprofit Santa Cruz Neighbors, the SCPD, UC Santa Cruz Good Neighbor Initiative interns, and other members of the community worked together in negotiating the ordinance’s formation and implementation.
Some student tenants might find the public nature of the list intimidating, especially if their own homes are listed. Others, like Laurel Lansford, a second-year UCSC Cowell College student who is looking for off-campus housing, are unsure how to interpret it.
“I’m not worried about violating the ordinance, so it shouldn’t be a problem for me,” Lansford said. “I think the list could attract just as many partygoers as it does repel tenants.”
It’s unclear if the list’s publication is drawing lines in the community or uniting it. Peter Cook, a local Santa Cruz landlord, said that while the list itself is a useful tool for police, its publication could potentially divide the community.
“I rent to students all the time,” Cook said. “While I don’t necessarily have a problem with the list itself, I believe the system is geared against students. I mean, how loud is ‘too loud’? It doesn’t say.”
Cook, who owns property on the list, believes the Santa Cruz community should be less concerned with penalizing student tenants and more focused on providing alternative locations for students to blow off steam on weekends.
“Look, it’s great the police officers now have a list to refer to where the trouble usually springs up at,” Cook said. “But public policy punitively goes after student tenants without providing them with somewhere else to go. Downtown is unsafe, the university isn’t fun enough, and nothing constructive seems to be being done to remedy the situation, so where else are students going to kick back if not their houses?”
Deborah Elston, founding member and president of Santa Cruz Neighbors, believes the list’s publication will actually come to help student tenants looking for a house off-campus.
“For years, landlords have been charging ridiculously high rent prices at the expense of the neighborhood. One of the unintended consequences that may occur as a result [of the list becoming public] is a drop in rent prices due to discouraged tenants,” Elston said. “The ordinance is not geared to work against college students, but to encourage them to go meet their neighbors and get to know them. That’s how you can figure out ‘How loud is too loud?’”
Cook, however, was skeptical as to how effective the public nature of the list would be at deterring student tenants.
“Students are always looking for a place to live. While it’s possible that some students may get discouraged, I haven’t seen any significant drops in interest,” Cook said. “The public nature of the list really just shows the disconnect the community has with the campus. Students are young, energetic, and they do party, but they also usually make for wonderful tenants.”
According to Cook, the nature of the list could be potentially misleading, because there is no distinction between houses on the list as to the size of the parties or the number of times the house has violated the ordinance.
“I support the ordinance, and I have no problems with the list,” Cook said. “But when it’s made public, people who refer to it looking for housing won’t be able to see the difference between the accidental violations and the chronically troublesome.”
For students like Laurel Lansford who need to find a house before migrating away from both the campus and city of Santa Cruz until fall, necessity outweighs whatever leverage the public nature of the list has.
“[The list] wouldn’t stop me from choosing if I’d move into a place or not,” Lansford said. “I’d be surprised to see if it made very many people reconsider, frankly.”
The Santa Cruz Police Department was unavailable for comment.