2016-01-07 / Front Page

Nuisance Houses Targeted

By Olga Enger

A Newport City Councilor wants to mark nuisance houses with a yellow sticker.

Inspired by a program implemented to tackle college party houses in Narragansett, Councilor John Florez has drafted a resolution that would enable police to place a 10-by-14 inch sticker on the front door of a problem house. The proposal will be discussed at the next City Council meeting scheduled on Wednesday, Jan. 13.

“Although we don't have the party house problems of 15 years ago, the problem still exists,” said Florez.

Today, Narragansett leaders say the sticker program has been a valuable tool, but it was met with resistance when enacted in 2005.

In a 2008 lawsuit, the Rhode Island ACLU challenged the constitutionality of the Narragansett sticker ordinance, claiming that it violated tenants’ and landlords’ constitutional rights by allowing police to affix the stickers with no opportunity for a hearing or appeal. The judge ruled that the absence of hearing process was a concern, but the “mere possibility of misuse is insufficient to invalidate an ordinance.”

Narragansett officials have lauded the measure.

“It is one tool in a toolbox, but it is an effective one,” said Narragansett Police Captain and acting Chief Sean Corrigan. “We have found that once we have gone through the process of an officer responding and following up with a yellow sticker, we don’t have a further issue with the house.”

Narragansett Town Manager Pamela Nolan agreed.

“The sticker tool has been effective for controlling student behavior in Narragansett neighborhoods,” said Nolan. She added that increasing the fine for unruly behavior to $500 has also helped keep problem houses in check.

“Increased police presence is, of course, the most effective tool used to maintain quality of life in our neighborhoods. It is expensive, however,” added Nolan.

The ordinance enables police to attach a sticker for any type of repeated nuisances such as noise, drunkenness, trash, and parking problems.

Providence adopted a similar sticker ordinance in 2006, but it was not implemented until 2013.

Jack McVicker, president of the Off Broadway Neighborhood Association, has been a long-time advocate of implementing a sticker program. He added it was important to differentiate nuisance homes from short-term rentals, which are identified in Florez’s resolution as a source of the problem.

“I’d like to see short-term houses allowed,” McVicker said. “And I’d like to see strong enforcement of nuisance homes. We have lobbied hard for a nuisance home ordinance. But bad behavior doesn’t have anything to do with the length someone is renting a house.”

A separate provision in the resolution asks the administration to prepare a plan that will improve the enforcement of the city’s current short-term rental laws.

The resolution reads, “Short-term rentals pose a risk that can compromise the fabric of our neighborhoods and potentially make Newport less attractive to new families.”

More than 600 homes were registered last year as short-term rentals, with durations between one and nine months. Guest-houses, or rentals less than 30 days, are permitted by right in the limited business, waterfront business, general business, and commercial-industrial districts. Properties in other districts may apply for a special use permit through the Zoning Board of Review. There are around 170 approved guest-houses in the city.

Depending on the specifics, guest-houses may fall into one of six categories: hotels, transient guest houses, temporary housing for yachting organizations, home occupations, guest houses and vacation guest facilities. The registration fee is $20, with a $25 home inspection fee.

The city has modified the restrictions in some instances. For example, a transient guest facilities ordinance (§ 17.100.050) was introduced in 2003, to accommodate timeshares. In 2000, City Council approved an ordinance to allow housing for yachting organizations (§ 17.100.110).

In 1992, at the height of what is known as the era of “Zoo-port” and the widespread problem of party houses, City Council passed ordinances restricting vacation rentals. At that time, the city also began to work with Salve Regina University to house more students on campus.

In 1996, a full-time zoning officer was hired to enforce noise issues. A couple of years ago, police offers were also trained to monitor for noise violations to provide increased coverage.

At a lightly attended public workshop designed to discuss short-term rentals in August, four people spoke against relaxing the 1992 ordinances. The workshop was scheduled after several councilors expressed a willingness to explore the idea of permitting shorter-term rentals.

McVicker pointed to Tuckerman Avenue in Middletown as an example of a neighborhood that succeeds with short-term rentals.

“It’s no secret that it’s a thriving rental market in a really nice neighborhood,” McVicker said. “They enforce the rules. It’s a great environment and neighborhood. We see growth in that market.”

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