Middlebury ordinance aims to quiet noisy tenants in college neighborhood

MIDDLEBURY — The town of Middlebury is considering a “public nuisances” ordinance that calls on landlords to police noisy, disruptive tenants that have drawn an increasing number of complaints, particularly in the Weybridge and Shannon street neighborhoods.
The new law has been drafted by the town’s public safety committee and will soon come before the Middlebury selectboard for its review and possible approval. Local residents, including tenants and landlords, will also have a chance to weigh in on the draft.
“This deals with disorderly houses,” said Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley, also a member of the public safety committee. “Some of these houses have become consistent noise generators.”
Hanley explained the town’s noise ordinance is event-specific and therefore unable to address a pattern of disruptive events at a particular location.
“What we have seen is that some of these houses become perpetual nuisance generators,” he said. “We go there under the noise ordinance and tell them they need to quiet down. They try. Then there are a bunch of kids who are leaving these houses making noise, fouling up neighbors’ lawns, discarding litter, drinking, making loud noises, and it’s no longer a problem of noise at the source anymore, the noise is all over the place.”
Last year, according to Hanley, Middlebury police were particularly busy responding to complaints about nuisance behavior — particularly on Shannon and Weybridge streets, where there are an estimated 11 rental homes. Those neighborhoods are near the Middlebury College campus.
“The noise complaints we got there were just untenable for the neighbors,” Hanley said.
The public safety committee then resurrected and updated a nuisance ordinance that it first considered — but tabled — back in 2003. That ordinance outlines a multi-step process through which landlords are given multiple warnings about complaints generated by their tenants.
The landlords are given time in which to address those complaints. Failure to do so can lead to fines ranging from $250 to $1,000. The most uncooperative landlords can be subject to liens on their property, charges for police response to complaints at the homes, and ultimately what Hanley called the “nuclear option” — evicting the tenants and closing the offending house for up to a year.
Hanley acknowledged that the nuclear option is something the town would probably never have to employ. He noted a recent meeting between town officials and local landlords, “who across the board were interested in getting more involved and helping us resolve this.”
Among those participating landlords were Peter and Victoria Jette, who own three rental properties in the Weybridge and Shannon streets area that they rent to college students.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Peter Jette said of the proposed ordinance. “Anything that can create a better environment for the neighbors of student tenants, I am in favor of.”
The Jettes are landlords who reside in Middlebury and are therefore nearby to field complaints and talk to problem tenants.
“I have a constant dialogue with my tenants,” Jette said. “If you are in fairly constant communication with them, they are fairly responsible.”
Other landlords live outside of Middlebury, or even outside the state, and are consequently not as attentive.
“My best guess is that 90 percent of the tenants don’t cause any problems,” Jette said. “Mostly these are great kids and solid citizens.”
Most Middlebury College students live on campus. But the institution permits a limited number of students to reside off-campus. That number varies annually based on campus housing needs, according to Middlebury College Public Affairs Director Sarah Ray. There are currently 104 seniors living off campus out of a total 2015-2016 enrollment of 2,450. Most of these students were selected through a lottery, while some secured special permission, according to Ray.
College officials said the scheduled opening next fall of a new residential complex off Adirondack View will allow the institution to significantly reduce the number of students living off campus.
All off-campus students sign a contract with the college that includes language about expectations of appropriate behavior. Prior to the start of each semester, the college’s Residential Life office emails the students tips on being a good neighbor.
For the past several years, early in the fall semester, Residential Life has also organized a neighborhood meet-and-greet for students and neighbors in the Chipman Park and Franklin Street areas. This year, a similar event was held in the Shannon-Weybridge street area. These meetings are intended to give everyone a chance to meet, share contact information and have an opportunity to connect a house with a group of people, according to Ray.
When college officials receive a report of a disruptive incident, they have a policy of following up with the residents of the house and meeting with them in person, Ray said. Continued behavior issues can result in the loss of the housing rebate, requirement to return to campus, and/or disciplinary action from the college, she added.
David Donahue, special assistant to the president of Middlebury College, believes the new ordinance will stimulate more conversation on an important issue.
“We support any efforts that encourage everyone involved — the college, students, landlords, and neighbors — to work together as partners to improve the quality of life in neighborhoods where students live off campus,” Donahue said.
Residents Sam and Paula Guarnaccia are hopeful the new ordinance, if approved, will pay some dividends.
“We are pleased that the town of Middlebury, Middlebury College, some landlords, and concerned residents of Weybridge and Shannon streets have been able to enter into a sustained dialogue over the past year about the quality of life in our community,” they wrote in a joint statement to the Independent.
“There have been many incidents over the past year and a half that have brought these constituents together. It is our hope that this ordinance will clarify both the boundaries and consequences of behavior, and will lead to an environment of mutual respect that will work for all, recognizing that there are many challenges reconciling the needs of settled community members with more transient residents, particularly college students.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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