Party Foul? UK-backed city ordinance takes aim at rowdy student housing.

State Street has many rented properties typically inhabited by students. Taken Thursday, Nov. 14 , 2019, in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

Sydney Momeyer

Your favorite tailgate house could be considered a “disruptive premise,” resulting in fines against landlords—and possible rent raises—some local landlords warn, if a newly proposed city ordinance should pass through the Lexington city council.

Last week, the council’s Planning and Public Safety Committee voted to move the ordinance—called the “Disruptive Premises Ordinance”—up to the full council for a vote.

The ordinance is supported by the university. UK Provost David Blackwell issued a letter of support for the ordinance. In the letter, he stated that the UK administration has “worked diligently to enforce [the] Student Code of Conduct on and off-campus and to support the efforts of the Lexington Police Department in monitoring neighborhoods that are heavily saturated with student residents.”

“We feel strongly that this measure can assist both the city and the university in efforts to reduce underage drinking and neighborhood disturbance issues, especially in areas around our campus,” Blackwell wrote.

“Preparing students to be members of a community and society is a priority for the University of Kentucky,” UK Spokesperson Jay Blanton said. “That is why we care so deeply about community service and service learning. It is also why our Student Code of Conduct doesn’t end at the borders of our campus. The proposed ordinance, we believe, is another tool that supports the educational mission of the University and our commitment in being good neighbors within the city of Lexington.”

Why is the ordinance being proposed?

According to documents prepared by Lexington Urban County Councilman Jake Gibbs for the committee, the ordinance was created to reduce the amount of house parties that occur in the areas immediately off of UK’s campus.

Gibbs represents Lexington’s Council District 3, where UK and many off-campus student housing areas are located. He said that if the ordinance were to be enacted in the city, it would not go into effect until late January, giving any supporters or opposers the opportunity to “put their two cents in.”

“It’s my hope that we can curb the out of control house party culture in our near campus neighborhoods,” Gibbs wrote in his presentation.

Prior to this ordinance, there was the “Lexington Party Plan.” Passed in 2001, this plan, according to the council documents, “was designed to hold landlords accountable for properties defined as a disturbance problem.” After two citations, the premise was to be designated a “No Party Property.” If any further infractions occurred at the property, the property owner could receive a criminal citation and potential fines.

However, Gibbs said, this was not utilized due to the criminal charges that could occur. Local government officials did not want criminal charges left on permanent records due to partying at a young age. Since 2001, properties were deemed a “No Party Premise” only 41 times.

To increase enforcement, the newly proposed Disruptive Premises Ordinance was introduced. Council documents show two differences from No Party. Disruptive Premises would no longer require there to be previous infractions to trigger action against the landlord—a landlord could immediately be given a citation. However, the fines and citations are now considered civil and not criminal, giving the landlord a chance to appeal the citation.

After two citations issued to people living at the given property, a landlord would be fined $250. Further infractions would result in a $500 fine, then $1,000 and continue going up as infractions occurred.

Once a property owner can assure that their residency is no longer disruptive, the property will be removed from the list. Gibbs said that a residency could be taken off if the landlord could prove, through an appeal of a citation or fine, that they are making a conscious effort to make their property less disruptive. In severe cases, this could result in an eviction of a tenant.

Could student rents go up?

Landlord and member of the legislative committee for the Greater Lexington Apartment Association Craig Martin believes fines should not fall upon the landlord. Martin used to be president of the University Area Housing Association and has dealt with many college tenants. He currently represents 18,000 units, with a “very active legislative committee” for GLAA.

According to Martin, this level of fines for the landlord could result in raising rent prices in the neighborhoods surrounding campus, calling this a “direct target on student housing.”

“If people are having parties obviously their security deposit will be used for any damage to the property,” he said. “So that would force us to raise rent prices to make up for these potential fines.”

Gibbs told the Kernel that he wanted to make clear that he is not “anti-party,” but instead just wants to make the neighborhoods and tenants in the areas surrounding campus feel safer. He said that this does not just apply to students, but to parties all around the city.

Gibbs and Martin were in agreement that many of the issues in the neighborhoods around campus regarding student partying is a result of UK having a dry campus.

“Part of the problem is what UK did years ago by banning alcohol on campus,” Gibbs said. “They thought they were doing a marvelous thing, but what they did was throw it out into the neighborhoods.”

Both Gibbs and Martin said the Lexington Police Department has done a great job of trying to regulate the parties to keep the neighborhoods safe.

Is the near-campus partying getting out of hand?

Constituents from all over several near-campus neighborhoods complained to Gibbs telling stories of underage drinkers, fighting, vandalism and in one case, cars pulling up and down the street “as if it were South Beach.” This particular constituent, who was not named in the documents, lives on Transylvania Park, a street just off the UK’s campus’ northeastern edge.

“I really care about this street and don’t understand why we let this happen,” the constituent said. “If I was thinking of purchasing a house on this street and drove up to find plastic cups everywhere I would drive on by.”

Sue Mize, the president of the Transylvania Park Neighborhood Association said that she agrees that the ordinance would likely make the neighborhood safer by reducing the amount of crazy parties, but also said she loves the well-behaved students who live on the street right now.

“We love our students, we love the festive atmosphere during ball games and that’s why we live here,” she said. “Many of the people on the street are professors here and they love the students.”

Mize said that she has not had an issue with an unruly party in quite some time, and that the landlords in the area have been very diligent in keeping tenants that are respectful of the area.

“I know several of our landlords and they are very responsible,” Mize said. “We have a lot of students here. And for the most part they are very well-behaved. If anything goes wrong and I have contacted the landlord, it has been taken care of immediately.”

She told of a “party house” that was on the street a few years ago and said that she would be “totally in favor of that homeowner being cited.”

“The homeowner needs to be responsible for the students and do preventative work by saying ‘Look, here are the rules if you want to live in my house and here is how you need to behave,’” she said.

Martin said that he has tried to be a responsible landlord, making sure his tenants are acting properly and in severe cases, issuing 14-day notices of legal action being taken against the tenant, such as evictions.

“I personally have strict rules regarding the amount of people that can be on the property at a time without permission,” he said. “A tenant can have double the number of guests that live in the home. So, if there is a four-bedroom apartment, there can be eight people on the premise without them having to inform me. After that, they need to inform me of the number of guests they will have.”

Another complaining constituent listed in Gibbs’ council documents was a landlord in the areas around State and Elizabeth Streets—an area notoriously rowdy, street-filling reveling which often occurs after major UK football and basketball sports wins.

“The local newspaper has reported partying on University, State Street, and Waller Avenue,” the constituent wrote. “In the reporting that I read, there have been some small fires, noise problems, and very low vandalism. However, I have a dozen houses on those three streets. Quite frankly, my tenants are scared to death. These tenants are stating that it is like a riot; they are afraid.”