By The Gazette Editorial Board
Too often in Iowa City, when police knock on the door of a loud house party that’s getting out of hand, no one answers. Many partyers know all too well that if frustrated officers hope to hold someone criminally accountable, they’ll have to seek a search warrant, which can take hours.
Now, the City Council is on the doorstep of creating a new ordinance to combat the problem. And we think, for the most part, it’s a reasonable approach.
The city has given initial approval to a change that would allow officers, if no one answers the door, to refer a party location to the city’s housing inspector as a disorderly house. That would set in motion a process by which the residence’s tenants could receive a civil citation, with a fine of $750 on the first offense and $1,000 after that.
We understand concerns of critics, who say the new policy might run afoul of residents’ right to due process. It’s possible that tenants of a party house who weren’t at the party could face a fine.
But we think that concern has to be balanced with the community’s interest in enforcing the multiple laws broken by large, loud parties in residential neighborhoods. The decision to ignore police officers should not be rewarded, nor should it force authorities to spend time and resources tracking down a warrant in the middle of the night.
This process also shouldn’t be construed by city officials as a shortcut around fact-finding to fines. Tenants should be given a real opportunity to tell their side, and appeal the housing inspector’s call. Without a solid appeal process, the city’s ordinance may not survive a likely court challenge.
We also think the fines being discussed are excessive, considering that college students are most likely to be on the receiving end. A significant but lower fine would be more appropriate.
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