by Mark Tarses

There are 2 widely-held myths about parties in college towns everywhere that I regularly have to speak to my tenants about.

#1. THERE IS NO 'RIGHT TO PARTY.' A lot of tenants (not just college students) think that as an American citizen, you have a legal right to have parties in your apartment, but that is not true. There is nothing in the Constitution about a 'right to party.' It's not in any state or local law either. Lots of leases contain provisions prohibiting tenants from having parties of any kind on the premises or that limit the number of people who can attend a party or that set limits on the dates and hours of parties. Lease clauses restricting and prohibiting parties are legal and enforceable in every state.

#2. YOUR NEIGHBORS HAVE A LEGAL RIGHT TO GO TO SLEEP AT A REASONABLE HOUR EVERY NIGHT. Disturbing the peace is illegal. You can be cited and fined for it, and in some cases even arrested. You are not being considerate or courteous to your neighbors by telling them in advance that you are going to have a party that will prevent them from sleeping. It is legally useless and could be dangerous for you.

Robbing Bank of America. Simply announcing in advance that you intend to do something that is illegal does not give you the right to do it. For example, it is not O.K. to rob a bank providing that you tell the bank in advance that you intend to rob them. Somebody actually did that here in Berkeley. There used to be a Bank of America on Ashby Avenue across the street from the Ashby BART station, 2 blocks from my house. It was where I did my banking. A man once robbed that bank with a gun. He didn't wear a mask because he didn't see any surveillance cameras in the bank, and so he assumed that there weren't any, but he was wrong. This guy wasn't very smart and was quickly caught. At his trial, the bank robber compounded his folly by acting as his own lawyer. He thought he had an airtight defense that was going to get him off. The bank robber told the jury that that he mailed a letter to the manager of the bank a week before the robbery stating that he intended to rob the bank. He included the date of his planned robbery in the letter. The manager of the bank testified that he received the letter but did nothing about it. He thought the letter was a practical joke or a fraternity initiation prank. The judge told the jury that simply informing the manager of the bank in advance that the defendant intended to rob the bank was not a defense. The bank robber went to prison. Surprisingly, this happens fairly often - that a criminal informs his victim in advance of the crime that he intends to commit in the belief that by doing so, it will give him some sort of legal cover if he is caught. That doesn't work. As I often tell people - playing amateur lawyer is dangerous.

The idea that it is O.K. to have a loud party late at night providing that you told the neighbors in advance is an urban legend that gets college students into trouble all the time. Berkeley has one of the toughest noise pollution laws in the United States, and they enforce it. Berkeley policeman have decibel meters in their patrol cars. People having loud parties late at night in Berkeley are regularly issued large fines. Also, it can be dangerous to tell your neighbors in advance about your parties. Some people will interpret your notice as an invitation to come to your party, which can lead to awkward situations. Even worse, dishonest neighbors may come to your party to rob your place. Yes, that does happen.

HOST RESPONSIBILITY. You are financially responsible for your guests. If your guest damages the building, you or your guarantor will have to pay for the damage. A landlord is not required to locate the guest and get the money from him. Think about the people who you invite into your home. Ask yourself "Do I want to be responsible for this person?" If the answer is "No," you better say so, because you are financially responsible for the people you invite into your home! Make sure your guests park their cars legally. Make sure you guests are not blocking your neighbor's driveways. Don't make enemies out of your neighbors.

ALCOHOL AND DRUGS. If you are going to have alcohol at a party in your home, remember that hosts are responsible for their guest's excessive drinking, whether you provide the alcohol or whether your guests bring their own. If someone gets drunk in your home and then has an accident while driving home drunk, you can be held financially responsible fir that, even though you weren't there! A lot of people don't think of drunk driving as a crime as long as nobody was hurt. In movies, drunk driving is often portrayed as funny, but it's not. I was nearly killed when I was in college by a drunk driver who passed out at the wheel. Over 2,000 Americans are killed every month by drunk drivers. If a guest is unfit to drive a car, don't let him!

THE SECRET TO HAVING A SUCCESSFUL PARTY IS CONTROL! If your party is out of control, you are going to have trouble. To keep control: 1. Never have an open party, a party at which your guests are allowed to invite other people and bring their own guests without your prior O.K. One out-of-control guest can do thousands of dollars of damage to your apartment. 2. Most important, set up an ending time for your party in advance and stick to it! When that time comes, turn off the music, turn on the lights, put away the booze, and tell people to leave. If music is still playing and the beer is still flowing, your guests are not going to leave!

Mark Tarses

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