A Friday night — music blaring, students bobbing up and down in an overcrowded basement — can end with a knock on an off-campus front door. Long after the last party-goers have filed out, South Bethlehem tenants can still be issued citations by the police.
Off-campus housing isn’t just a place to live and party. Tenants must also follow Bethlehem’s eviction and citation ordinances.
“If the police are called and people are cited at the house — the tenants of the house are cited three times for having a disorderly house — we can force the landlord to evict,” said Allyson Lehr, the Bethlehem housing and community development planner.
According to Bethlehem-PA.gov, the disruptive conduct ordinance is described as “any form of conduct, action, incident or behavior perpetrated, caused or permitted, by any occupant or visitor of a regulated dwelling unit that is a violation of existing Ordinances of the City of Bethlehem or statutes of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
Lehr said when off-campus parties are busted and a housing citation is issued, the citation is issued for the violation of a disorderly house ordinance.
Only tenants present when the police arrive get the citation attached to their name.
“You cannot get cited if you’re not there,” Lehr said.
Lehr said disorderly house ordinances can include noise, public urination, laying in the streets, yelling and screaming, fights or “anything that is really drawing attention to the house as a disruption to the people around.”
Student Senate president Matt Rothberg said once cited, the student can plead guilty or not guilty. If found guilty, the ultimate decision of the court becomes public.
“While it is not a misdemeanor or felony, it’s still on the record and anything that a future employer could easily search for,” Rothberg said. “People don’t necessarily take that into account.”
Lehr emphasized that eviction is the last thing her department would want to do to anyone.
Some Lehigh students do not fully understand the city’s policy regarding evictions.
Ian Davis, ’18, said he does not have a concrete understanding of the house ordinance citation policy.
“I have heard people throw around different numbers and different figures,” he said. “I’ve heard some people say it is completely up to the discretion of landlord, but I haven’t heard one clear answer.”
Davis is a member of Alpha Epsilon Phi, a recognized fraternity that does not have an on-campus facility, so the social events his fraternity hosts are more likely to be held off campus.
“I think you look for outlets to work with other fraternities when they’re hosting registered events on campus,” he said.
Zachary Rigo, ’19, who currently lives off campus, understood the law to be “three citations and you are out of there.” However, Rigo did not fully believe this to be true.
“They’re not going to let homeless kids roam around Lehigh,” Rigo said.
Lehr said evictions are an extreme form of repercussion. They are also expensive.
“An eviction disrupts the students’ education, it disrupts the landlord’s business and it takes an enormous amount of time and energy for everyone,” Lehr said.
Rothberg said some students don’t realize how much liability comes along with hosting parties at their off-campus houses.
“They have to be considerate about their future,” Rothberg said. “Is it necessarily worth having the fun of a five-hour party to have to deal with this being public for the rest of your life?”
Lehr said the City of Bethlehem is working with the Lehigh community and recently spoke to the vice provost for Student Affairs, Ricardo Hall, to figure out how to make it a safer environment for parties.
“The (death) that happened at Lafayette and what happened at Penn State, it is really dangerous,” Lehr said. “(Students) are either going to drink themselves to death, unfortunately, or we’re going to have a situation where there is a fire in the basement and they can’t get out, or the floor collapses. These are pretty old houses.”
She said the goal is not to shut down parties, but to ensure students are safe.
“A lot of Greek houses need to realize that they don’t need to concentrate their social life off campus,” Rothberg said.
Rothberg said there have been changes to registered party policies for fraternities and sororities. He said the registered party policies should be taken advantage of more.
Regardless of the social policy, Rothberg said he wants students to be considerate of the effect these citations and possible evictions can have on them.
“(Students) can be evicted,” he said. “Even though it hasn’t happened in the past, I would say a lot of things that have happened in the last few years haven’t happened in recent history. You don’t want to be first. You don’t want to be made an example of because that’s totally possible given the recent events.”