Students fear possible eviction
Off-campus students already fear possible eviction from their homes after multiple quality-of-life violation tickets were issued by the South Orange Police in the first week of the fall semester.
Due to frequent disruptive conduct and many complaints in residential neighborhoods, the South Orange Board of Trustees adopted an ordinance commonly known as the “Animal House” law on July 27 that imposes sanctions on landlords who do not evict tenants repeatedly violating quality-of-life-laws.
The ordinance stipulates landlords who fail to evict tenants convicted of more than one violation per year face a minimum fine of $500 or possible revocation of rental license.
Violations of quality-of-life laws fall under conviction for disorderly, indecent, tumultuous or riotous conduct, including simple assault, assault, terroristic threats, harassment, urinating or defecating in public, lewdness, criminal mischief and crimes against property or excessive noise.
Off-campus students are angry about the ordinance because they feel it specifically targets college students when it states that the cause for the ruling is “due to the presence of numerous university students in the community, a condition present in relatively few communities.”
Senior Mike Dinneny, who rents a house on Seton Place with five of his brothers from Pi Kappa Phi, said he fears his possible eviction because his house received a noise violation at 9 p.m. on the first weekend of the fall semester after his neighbors called the police.
“As a student that has lived off-campus within a South Orange community for three years, it is a disgrace to watch a blatant act of discrimination occur,” he said.
Dinneny and his roommates have already found a new house to move into if they are evicted from their home.
Robyn Brody-Kaplan lives on Seton Place as well with her partner and three children under 6 years old. She said the excessive noise problem on her block has grown worse within the past two years when her neighbors began waking her children up between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m.
“When we hear noise and we hear parties, we just call the cops because it’s a residential neighborhood and they’re waking up our children,” Brody-Kaplan said. “Literally last night our little girl woke up at 12:30 a.m. or quarter to 1 and she’s like, ‘Mommy, I can’t sleep, there are people outside talking.'”
According to senior Steve White, who also rents a house on Seton Place, the time of day is not always an issue when receiving a sound violation.
White said he had about 15 friends over the first weekend of fall semester when a police officer showed up at his door around 7 p.m. and with no explanation gave him a noise violation due to a complaining neighbor.
“It’s not even a party situation, we’re not even nervous for that,” White said. “We’re just nervous on a day-to-day basis on everything because we can’t even listen to music in the house too loud (or) watch TV too loud.”
Senior Andy Spentzos lives on Grove Street with his brothers from Phi Kappa Sigma. The students received a noise violation in their rented house around 10:30 p.m. on the first weekend of the fall semester.
“Although we do live in a big house and we do have a lot of people around, we keep the noise under control after having that first scare,” Spentzos said.
“It’s not like I’m defecating on people’s lawns or doing all these weird trashy things… we’re just enjoying ourselves as college students… having a few drinks …hanging with a few friends and there are time where things get out of control and too loud, but that’s the place of living by a University.”
Village President Douglas Newman said that the ordinance was not made to attack college students specifically.
“When doing a local law, you have to have a statement of findings as to why you’re even going down the path of doing something,” Newman said. “It’s important because you have to establish what bothered even pursuing an ordinance in the first place if you don’t have a reason that’s different from perhaps a different town.”
Newman said the difference in South Orange is that it is home to a university, which makes it unique.
However, because the ordinance penalizes college students, many of those who live in off-campus housing are beginning to wonder what Seton Hall’s role in the matter is.
Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Services Laura Wankel said she would be “hard pressed” to think that there wasn’t a relationship between Seton Hall students and the ordinance.
However she said she thinks “it’s unfortunate that there’s a perception that the University has done nothing because in fact… for many years now (the University) has been very involved with managing off-campus behavior of students and that to me is a critical component that seems to be lost in much of the media coverage.”
Wankel said the University receives police reports on a daily basis of any arrests or interventions that involve a Seton Hall student. In 2007, 102 reports were received from the South Orange Police Departments and in 2008 only 68 reports were received.
“If you look at the math of it all it would seem that maybe 1,000 to 1,200 students live off campus,” Wankel said. She said it’s important to compare the number of violations to the number of off-campus residents.
One frustration Wankel said she has with the ordinance is the “Animal House” stereotype. “(The Ordinance) has painted an appearance of the Seton Hall student that is truly the exception rather than the typical,” she said.
Not all South Orange residents support the ordinance and its stereotype.
Ralston Morris who lives on Seton Place said he thinks the ordinance is ridiculous.
“I went to college too, and to be forced to leave my house just because I had a little too much noise at my party just seems excessive,” Morris said. “That’s totally unfair to both the landlord and the student.”
Wankel said the University has done a fair amount to try and reach and work with campus students to educate them on two fronts, “not only what their responsibilities are to be good neighbors but also what some of their rights are.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: You can view the ordinance in PDF format, courtesy of the Township of South Orange Village website, by viewing our “Links” page.
Carolyn Maso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.