GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Richard Sooy said it’s not uncommon to be awakened at his Leeds Point home by parties attended by Richard Stockton College students and in the morning have to clean up beer cans, bottles, red plastic cups and food wrappers in his yard.
Sooy attended a Township Council meeting earlier this week to voice his concerns about the nearby property.
Township officials are drafting an “animal house” ordinance to make landlords responsible because of the concerns of area residents about rental properties that are a problem. They said they hope that by November they will have an ordinance prepared to amend the township’s code to include a chapter for landlord responsibility.
“We’re about 200 feet from this house, and it’s ridiculous. They have people out in the middle of the road, and you can’t even get down the street,” Sooy said in an interview.
“The bottom line is animal house neighbors make bad neighbors,” Sooy said.
Sooy’s neighbor Norman Turiano lives behind 137 Leeds Point Road, which they identified as the party house. He said that when he built his home 10 years ago, 137 Leeds Point was rented to a couple who were very quiet, but then the owner began renting to college students.
Now, on Friday and Saturday nights there can be anywhere from 50 to 200 people at the home, Turiano said. It is not out of the ordinary for the large front yard of the home to be filled with cars. People at the home are regularly outside drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana, which forces him to keep his children inside, he said.
“I’m tired of going to church on Sunday morning and seeing the sea of red Solo cups in my front yard,” Turiano said.
Property owner James Carroll III said that when he reluctantly rented the home to the students who currently live there, they promised him there would be no parties, and he was aware of the neighbors’ concerns from past tenants.
He said that he will be sending the tenants a certified letter stating that if behavior reported at a party earlier this month is repeated and the parking rules within the lease are violated an eviction action will be filed.
On Sept. 6, the evening NASA launched a spacecraft headed to the moon from Virginia, Turiano said, he left his home with his family at about 11:30 p.m. to drive to the bay to watch the spacecraft and there were cars in his driveway from a party at the rental property.
“When we turned around and came back, they had someone out there directing traffic with a flashlight and parking cars,” Turiano said.
Sooy was home at the time of the Sept. 6 party and said he heard a lot of loud noise and shortly after that the Galloway Township police arrived at the home.
“As I went outside of my house to see what was going on, a police car came by, and he went inside, and I heard him say everyone is out of here. Then another police car pulled up and another police car came,” Sooy said.
As the police, including officers from Stockton, continued to arrive, it seemed as if they were coming because there were partygoers in the road and police were trying to do crowd control, Sooy said.
Township Police Chief Pat Moran said typically calls for noise complaints are handled amicably. Calls like the one earlier this month for the party on Leeds Point Road that involved Stockton students are not something unfamiliar and have been going on for years, he said.
Turiano said he has attempted to approach Carroll and resolve the issue amicably because he knows the neighborhood is miserable.
“He responds, and he feels bad, and he’ll talk to them. He’s sympathetic, but he’s not acting,” Turiano said.
Carroll is a former Galloway Township attorney, former Atlantic County Democratic chairman and currently the Egg Harbor City attorney.
After sustaining damage at another township property on Route 9, Carroll said, he was apprehensive about renting to students again. But the latest group of college tenants are seniors. Carroll said they told him they had nowhere else to go.
“I understand there was a wild party there recently and I did not approve and was not happy to hear about it. I will never rent to students again period. If I could I would get rid of these properties period and never rent again,” he said.
“They assured me the party was a mistake and it got out of hand and it was supposed to (be only) a few friends,” he said.
When he has rented to students in the past they have been financially qualified or their parents sign the lease, he said. He added that it is impossible to do a background check on whether kids are going to party.
In the lease, Carroll said, he included the rule that there could be no more than four vehicles parked at the property and no cars parked on the lawn.
Glassboro, Gloucester County, home to Rowan University, has a “disorderly houses” ordinance that dictates that “no person shall keep or maintain a disorderly house or a house of ill fame or allow or permit any (property) ... to be used as a disorderly house or house of ill fame or to be frequented by disorderly persons.”
A first offense comes with a mandatory fine of $200, with no court appearance required if pleading guilty. Second and subsequent offenses come with a fine not less than $200 and not more than $2,000 or imprisonment not to exceed 90 days, a period of community service not to exceed 90 days, or both, under the court’s discretion.
Galloway Township Mayor Don Purdy said he is in favor of such a measure in the township and believes landlords need to be held responsible for the people to whom they rent properties, because neighbors rely on the landlords to keep the properties maintained.
“I don’t have a problem with that ordinance, particularly because I won’t be renting to students anymore. I’ll have it vacant before I’ll ever rent to students again,” Carroll said.
Township Manager Arch Liston is revisiting the township code book and working on the wording of the ordinance, which is expected to be introduced at the next regular township council meeting, Purdy said. Liston tabled the ordinance Tuesday because he said it was “too procedural” and he wanted to examine landlords being required to post bond and appear in court for complaints.
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