Making neighborhoods livable

Social Host Ordinance aims to cut back on safety issues from large social events

Contributed Photo

“A Social Host Ordinance is really a way to make neighborhoods livable, to have people take responsibility,” Robin Picard, coordinator of student and community relations, stated about the Social Host Ordinance that is being discussed in the city of Keene.

A Social Host Ordinance is an ordinance to hold individuals accountable for noise, underage drinking and various other infractions that can occur at social gatherings.

The “Social Host” portion of the ordinance pertains to anyone who is responsible for throwing the specific social gathering which breaks the rules of the ordinance, namely residents of a house or apartment.

Picard wants to emphasize that the ordinance is not in place to prevent partying. “It’s not an ordinance to say ‘we don’t want parties in our town,’” Picard stated. “What it is is a message on how to have a responsible party.”

If and when the Social Host Ordinance passes, all rules and regulations that come with the ordinance will affect all houses and residents in Keene, not only residences that house college students. 

The idea of a Social Host Ordinance was brought up when neighborhoods near the college started becoming affected by large gatherings and the impact the come from them. 

Large gatherings present public safety issues with overcrowding, noise, trash, parking issues, public urination and defecation as well as other inappropriate and disorderly behavior.

According to Picard, neighbors have tried to intervene when students have loud or large parties, but overall have had a tough time getting the results they want.

“Nearby neighbors have said that they are concerned about the noise, but when they tried to intervene with students, the response is, ‘this is our town, if you don’t like it don’t live here,’” Picard explained.

“What happens is that the townsfolk will call the authorities and say, ‘oh my goodness, there’s so much noise in the streets and coming from this particular party.’ Well, by the time the police show up, everybody might have turned down the music and it’s quiet,” said Picard.

Noise is one of the main problems that come with a large party. One of the issues that the Social Host Ordinance is trying to tackle is how to combat that issue. 

As Picard put it, “Noise levels can be subjective, so sometimes noise tickets get thrown out or police won’t even ticket for noise.”

The Social Host Ordinance is looking at the problem of noise not as an issue of subjectivity but as something that can cause harm to the human body. 

“A new view of noise is that it is harmful,” Picard explained. “Noise injures people psychologically and socially; it can be a potential stressor.” 

Picard went on to explain how noise could affect livability.

“Noise can be detrimental when it interrupts sleep or relaxation. This new paradigm around noise permits a better understanding of how noise affects livability in a neighborhood. Noise can result in a less desirable place to live,” said Picard.

The majority of college students who live in off-campus housing rent their property from a landlord.

Picard wants to emphasize that the ordinance also creates responsibility for landlords to educate their tenants, in this case students, on the goal of being respectful tenants.

“When a house has an incident, the landlord would be contacted and the landlord would be expected to talk to the tenants [about the incident],” Picard explained. “If a house repeatedly has issues and a landlord has not intervened, then the landlord might also be fined.” It is likely that fine will be passed onto students.

Picard highlighted that this ordinance is not targeting college students but is a collaborative effort by the Keene community as a whole to make the city a great place to live in. 

“The whole point of [the ordinance] is that the city, the college, the landlords and the tenants all work together. That’s why we love it,” Picard stated.

Picard added that collaboration and working towards a shared goal is what evey community should be about.

The Social Host Ordinance would be beneficial for students, according to Picard, because it is not subjective.

“It’s clear,” Picard explained. “I think students sometimes don’t really know what the rules are [about noise complaints]. There are no objective rules about noise and this would give clarity. There is no, ‘the police are out to get us,’ and that is a benefit for students.”

If the ordinance moves forward with the city, Picard plans to create a focus group of students to help get a better understanding of how they feel about the ordinance and to possibly help write the ordinance itself.

Many cities across the country have already implemented a Social Host Ordinance, including  Bloomington, Minnesota, Novato, California and Fort Collins, Colorado, Eugene Oregon and San Marcos, Texas.

At the time of this article, according to Picard, the proposal for the ordinance is being discussed back and forth with the city but there is no definitive timeline for when the ordinance will be passed. 

However, according to Picard, there is an upcoming meeting with the mayor, neighbors, fire chief and other officials to discuss the ordinance further. 

If you have any questions, comments or concerns about the Social Host Ordinance, or simply want to learn more about the ordinance, you can contact Picard at robin.picard@keene.edu.

Connor Crawford can be contacted at 

ccrawford@kscequinox.com