Victoria Howland/Courtesy Photo

In a city that houses more than 20,000 college students, house parties are common. However, in a city that constantly increases penalties for house parties, students who live in popular party houses must juggle school, social life and run-ins with the law. So-called “party houses” are not average college houses. Known for throwing outrageously themed gatherings and some of the most memorable parties, these houses are characterized by their receival of one or more noise violations within the last year.

After the “St. Fratty’s Day” roof collapse in 2015, the San Luis Obispo Police Department (SLOPD) enacted the Safety Enhancement Zone Ordinance for traditional party weekends like Halloween, Week of Welcome and St. Patrick’s Day. During these times, fines are doubled for public intoxication, public urination, open alcohol containers, unruly gatherings, serving alcohol to minors, possession of dangerous or deadly weapons and noise violations.

Recently, the City of San Luis Obispo and SLOPD developed a party registration system that launched May 5. Residents who plan to host events Friday, Saturday or Sunday before a holiday can register the event with the police department for free. If events are registered and there’s a noise complaint, the hosts are called and given 20 minutes to control the noise without immediately receiving a citation.

SLOPD Neighborhood Outreach Manager Christine Wallace talked about the reasoning behind the new party registration system. Wallace explained the less time police spend at party houses, the more proactive enforcement officers can be in neighborhoods.

“We are billing [the party registration program] to every single person,” Wallace said. “It can be a kid’s birthday party to a wedding reception to a greek event, to a game night or a church group. You name it. We want to know and will want to help you avoid citations.”

As far as those reporting noise complaints, Wallace said there’s a decent amount of students who make the calls in the neighborhoods near campus.

“A 10-week quarter flies by, and if you have a really rigorous schedule, your focus on your academics may be vastly different from your next door neighbors’ not so rigorous schedule,” Wallace said. “We actually get many complaints written under noise-related from students complaining about other students, based specifically on the academic schedule.”

The San Luis Obispo city noise ordinance states “between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., it is a violation to make or allow noise that can be heard across your property line.” Fines for noise violations start at $350 for the first citation, $700 for the second and $1,000 after that. If tenants are issued a noise violation while on the No Warning List — meaning they’ve already received a formal warning in the form of a Disturbance Advisement Card — the property owners are given a separate citation and are required to pay the same fine amount.

Graphic by Sophie Kelley

The driveway house

Computer science senior Johnny Abercrombie said the location of his house is one of the main reasons it’s a successful party house. Located at the top of a long driveway less than two miles from campus and nestled into the hillside, the multi-room house has two decks, a giant living room with couches set up movie-theater style and a lot of outdoor space. Abercrombie said it’s a prime party spot.

“We have this huge driveway, so we are separated from the street. Cops don’t ever happen to drive by and see or hear us,” Abercrombie said. “But we did get a $1,400 ticket that we’re still trying to figure out how to pay.”

Whether it’s a holiday, a random Tuesday night or the weekend, Abercrombie’s house can be heard bumping loud music and there’s usually a group of people hanging out, often into the early morning hours. Abercrombie also thinks the timing of parties contributes to its successful party house reputation.

“Sometimes we’ll start our parties after 2 a.m., and whenever we start late, we don’t get tickets,” Abercrombie said. “It’s only when we start at 10 p.m., which is regular party time, that we’ve gotten tickets.”

The giant house

Business administration senior Danny (editor’s note: last name is omitted to protect the source’s identity) said his house is the perfect party house because of the large amount of space. Located less than a mile from campus, the house is essentially two properties connected by a large yard.

Danny had a double-whammy when he received a citation.

“We got a $700 ticket, so we had to pay $700 and our landlord had to pay $700,” Danny said.  “We had to pay her $700 ticket, so it was $1,400 total.”

Tenants’ and property owners’ citations are completely different. If property owners choose to appeal citations and the appeal is accepted, it doesn’t mean the tenants’ citation is automatically dismissed too.

“[SLOPD] partying laws are really vague and they’re not really tailored to a student atmosphere, I think, when they should be,” Danny said.

The notorious house

Construction management senior Armando (editor’s note: last name is omitted to protect the source’s identity) said he and his roommates received five noise violations within the last year. He also said that one police officer doesn’t even ask for his ID at this point because he knows them.

“Since I’ve been here, we’ve spent probably like $8,000 to $10,000 on tickets” Armando said.  “One of the reasons we get so many tickets is because there is a retirement home next to us. We always try talking to our neighbors, we made them cookies and stuff, but the retirement home just hates us.”

Armando’s house is on the No Warning List. If residents receive a Disturbance Advisement Card (DAC), they are put on the No Warning List for nine months. During the nine-month period, if the police department gets a noise complaint about the house, citations are automatically issued.

“Our landlord doesn’t care. He’s super chill, he’s just like, ‘As long as you guys pay for my part I could care less how many tickets you guys get,’” Armando said. “At the end of the day, you graduate with the memories and the good times that you have.”

The spirit lodge

Microbiology junior Zach Landry has had a positive experience living in a more family-oriented neighborhood. Landry’s house is smaller, but full of unique decorations, curtains and tapestries, which led to it being nicknamed the “spirit lodge.”

“The first day that these neighbors moved in, he met me and I was talking to him, and told him I was having some friends over tonight,” Landry said. “He was like ‘Oh okay great’ in a surprised tone; ‘I don’t call the cops.’ They just kind of do their own thing.”

The San Luis Obispo City Council is responsible for determining the cost of noise violations. Specific noise ordinances are on their website.

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