Scott Tibbs
Published in Hoosier Review, 09-12-2002

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Good program, bad program

With the first week of classes finished , IU students are likely becoming more aware of the city's Quiet Nights program, which was passed in the summer of 2000. In addition, the "welcome back" edition of the IDS carried a reminder story about the lawsuit by Peter Dvorak, who challenged city's regulation that no more than three unrelated adults can live in a single house.

The Quiet Nights program was passed by the City Council due to growing concern over disturbances in residential neighborhoods created by people making a lot of noise. This is a result of an inevitable culture clash that happens when college students in their late teens and early 20's share a neighborhood with non-students, from working families to senior citizens. The City Council passed additional funding for police overtime to deal with noise issues and enforce the existing noise ordinance.

While many students don't like the program, it is an example of government working well. The first function of government is to ensure that some citizens don't violate the rights of others. If a loud party or loud music disrupts the privacy or sleep of neighbors, then those neighbors rights are being violated and they have a right to seek relief.

Despite complaints to the contrary, this isn't a First Amendment issue. There is no censorship of content, only of volume, and students can still be reasonably loud without disturbing their neighbors. In addition, Quiet Nights isn't really any different than Quiet Hours and Courtesy Hours in the dorms. While students certainly have a right to enjoy themselves in their home away from home, their neighbors should also have a reasonable expectation of privacy from loud parties, loud music, or the "boom cars" that some in the community rail against.

The program is conducted in a reasonable manner, with officers giving a warning to people who are being excessively loud, and returning later to issue a citation if the volume has not been turned down. It doesn't take a detailed analysis of the situation to know whether a party is too loud, so common sense should let people know when to turn it down.

It is true that Bloomington is a college town, and some tolerance needs to be shown for students having a good time. But students aren't the only ones living in the neighborhoods where they rent their homes, and even other students living in the same neighborhood deserve privacy, along with a chance to study and sleep.

But another city policy dealing mostly with students isn't such a good idea. Local businessman Peter Dvorak fought a court battle with the city of Bloomington for seven years over a city ordinance limiting the number of unrelated adults living in a house to three. Dvorak continued to fight the ordinance even after he sold his rental properties and had no financial interest in the matter, to defend a principle he believed in. An Indiana appeals court found the law unconstitutional.

While the concerns that prompted the city to pass the law in 1985 are valid, the law itself is not. It is true that the influx of college students into core neighborhoods has resulted in problems with noise, trash, parking and traffic. But the ordinance singles out an entire group of people to regulate without dealing with the specific individuals who are actually causing the problems. Some people who can afford to live in a house with three roommates may be financially strapped if the rent is divided three ways instead of four, especially in neighborhoods where rent prices have been inflated by location and demand. Students who are working their way through college or others who are working low-wage jobs are being hurt by this ordinance.

A better solution would be more aggressive enforcement of existing city ordinances to deal with the problems in rental-heavy neighborhoods. The Quiet Nights program discussed above is a good example of how this can be done. Instead of dealing with specific problems, the unrelated adults rule tries to use a sledgehammer where a scalpel would be more appropriate. The unrelated adults rule, instead of dealing with specific problems, looks more like an attempt to keep students confined to certain areas of town.

As the percentage of students grows in residential neighborhoods, Bloomington will continue to face challenges. The Quiet Nights program shows how these challenges can be met in a reasonable way. The unrelated adults rule does not.