Tuesday, September 26, 2023
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Tuesday, September 26, 2023 | Back issues
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Unruly R.I. Homes Can’t Dodge Sticker Treatment

(CN) - Police in the seaside town of Narragansett, R.I., can use orange stickers to brand the homes of problem partiers who pose "a threat to the quality of life in a quiet enclave," the 1st Circuit ruled.

Since 2005, when the Narragansett town council adopted the ordinance, police have enforced the law to identify properties for stricter punishments in the event of a second offense.

After officers disperse an "unruly gathering," they can post a bright orange 10-by-14 inch sticker on or near the front entrance of the revelers' home. The landlord then receives a letter about the posting and the violation that led to it.

The University of Rhode Island Student Senate led a challenge to the policy and appealed to the Boston-based court after a Rhode Island federal judge upheld the ordinance.

Comprising the appellants were students who have been subjected to university disciplinary procedures as a result of violating the ordinance, students who have been evicted after receiving sticker citations and landlords who have lost rental income because of the trouble re-renting a property marked with the orange sticker. They claimed that the ordinance violated due process and was preempted by the state's Landlord and Tenant Act.

Once their properties are "posted," landlords say they have no choice but to evict their tenants, without the state-required opportunity to cure, so they can avoid liability for subsequent ordinance violations.

The three-judge appellate panel rejected the contention, finding that the policy is constitutional and that landlords can duck liability by actively "attempting" eviction.

"This argument represents a triumph of hope over reason," Judge Bruce Selya wrote for the court. "The ordinance does not require a landlord to initiate eviction proceedings against an offending tenant. ... Affording the landlord an 'ongoing eviction' defense is not tantamount, either legally or practically, to compelling him to institute eviction proceedings."

Penalties for violating the ordinance, which prohibits "a gathering of five or more persons on any private property which constitutes a substantial disturbance of the quiet enjoyment of private or public property in a significant segment of a neighborhood," include a fine of up to $500 and court-ordered community service.

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