When a Franklin couple wanted to move into the city more than 21 years ago, they were looking for a historical home.
At Jefferson and Hougham streets, they found one that dates back to the 1890s, which they have since gutted and restored. At first, they loved the proximity to Franklin College, with the school a block away. But now, loud parties thrown by college students have disrupted their neighborhood, a group of 10 neighbors said.
Starting nearly a decade ago, Scott and Julie Parker have been yelled at, taunted, threatened and kept awake into the early hours by students’ off-campus parties, which happen nearly every weekend in warmer weather, they said. Ever since one group of students started partying in off-campus housing in 2006, the neighborhood has changed, the Parkers said.
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Neighbors have tried to find a solution by talking to police, city officials and the college, but the situation has not improved, neighbors said. They want more supervision over the renters to make the partying stop so they no longer have to be kept up by loud music, which also keeps their children awake.
They do not want to be verbally assaulted for asking people to be quieter. And most importantly, none of the neighbors wants to find out that a student has been injured or sent to the hospital because of excessive drinking or partying, they said.
Neighbors have called Ellis Hall, Franklin College dean of students, about the issue. But since they live off-campus, the college cannot do anything about the students unless they violate college policy, Hall said.
“It becomes tricky holding students accountable for off-campus behavior. We have, but typically that’s been an issue where someone’s been arrested,” Hall said.
In the past two years, the police have been called about six times per year for issues, including parking problems, loud noise and battery. But neighbors say the calls don’t solve the problem. When officers respond, the noise goes down for 10 minutes, but then people start yelling, and the music gets turned back up, neighbor Amy Zeiher said.
Officers respond to every call, but in some instances — such as indecent exposure or urinating in public — officers cannot ticket or arrest anyone unless they witness the act themselves, Franklin Police Department Lt. Kerry Atwood said.
The police department does not receive an unusually large amount of calls involving college students, but neighbors see and hear the disturbances more often, Atwood said.
Every few years, a new group of students moves into houses on Jefferson and Hougham streets, and the partying continues, the Parkers said. Last year, at a “beer pong Olympics party” about 70 students were crammed into one backyard.
The problem has changed Scott Parker’s perspective of Franklin College students, he said.
“We just never see the good side,” he said.
Noise is the top issue, neighbors said. One night, the dispatcher couldn’t hear her when she called the police because the students were so loud, Julie Parker said.
“They (students) say that we’re mean,” Julie Parker said. “We’d just like to sleep.”
Officers do not have a standard procedure when answering a complaint about noise, Atwood said.
Officers can ask for IDs if they believe people are drinking underage and can tell people to settle down, but they cannot enter the house unless they suspect that illegal activity, such as drug use or underage drinking, is happening, Atwood said.
Franklin does have a noise ordinance, and the noise does not have to hit a certain decibel to be considered excessive. If music is shaking windows or walls, people are within their rights to report that, Atwood said. If it is reported to the police, officers can tell the residents to turn down the music or quiet down, he said.
Police can ticket residents for repeated noise violations if they do not quiet down after two or three warnings from officers, Atwood said.
Having a noise ordinance is not enough, the neighbors said. One home in particular has had officers called at least 20 times in recent years due to noise violations, but no tickets have ever been given, according to police reports that date back to 2006.
Rick and Amy Zeiher, who moved into their South Hougham Street home in 1986, said they feel the college students think they don’t need to abide by the rules since they’re living off-campus. Despite living in a residential community, the students don’t seem to care about their neighbors’ peace and quiet, Amy Zeiher said.
Two homes have been the main source of wild parties and noise, the neighbors said. One home is on East Jefferson Street, where the owner declined to comment, and another is on South Hougham Street, and the owner did not return phone calls. A resident at each home said they have not had issues with noise.
Franklin College can do only so much if students are living off-campus, Hall said. Since off-campus housing is not owned by the college, officials cannot inspect the homes or punish students for partying, he said.
Under school policy, students must live on campus until they are a senior or if they commute from their parents’ home, Hall said. Students do not need to prove that their parents live in the same home, but they can face consequences if the college finds out that they are breaking the room and board policy, Hall said.
If the college finds out that students are living in a parent-owned house that is not the parents’ permanent address, the college can charge the student for residential housing, Hall said. Students have been charged in the past for trying to break rules on living without parents off-campus, Hall said.
But unless the school is told about people breaking campus policy, the college does not enforce off-campus housing guidelines, Hall said.
“We understand residents’ and neighbors’ concerns, and we want to support them in any way that we can to help them feel comfortable in their own homes,” Hall said. “There are limits to what we can do.”
Neighbors have watched college students run on top of roofs in the neighborhood, bring their TVs into the backyard and watch basketball games and construct a blue tarp in the backyard to be used as an outdoor bathroom.
Julie Parker said she eight students dropped their pants and asked her if she liked what she saw. In at least 15 instances, neighbors have seen students urinating in public or throwing bags of trash into the street. Other times, students have blocked residents’ driveways when parking.
One night, the students overheard Scott Parker calling the police. In response, they chanted, “We’re not that drunk! We’re not that drunk!”
“If you dare ask them to turn the music down or quiet down, you’re very abused verbally or threatened physically,” Amy Zeiher said.
During March Madness last year, students were watching basketball games outside and started a bonfire. After the noise became too much, Scott Parker asked the students to quiet down and reminded them after 11 p.m., when Franklin’s noise ordinance comes into effect.
A student said he wanted to add more logs to the bonfire so it would engulf the Parkers’ house, according to Scott Parker.
“’I hope this fire gets so big that it burns your house down,’” Scott Parker recalled the student saying.
“That next day, we went out and bought security cameras.”
The Parkers met with Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness, Hall and police last summer to see what the city and college could do to settle down the students during the school year. But since officials met in the summer when students had gone home, the wild parties had subsided.
So far this school year, the neighborhood has been calmer than usual with few parties, but Amy Zeiher dreads the return of warmer weather, when the partying will likely return, she said.
Julie Parker said she eagerly waits for June 1 to come so she can enjoy her home once students leave for the summer months.
If a neighbor is committing a noise violation being a nuisance, there is no standard set of rules for officers to follow, said Lt. Kerry Atwood of the Franklin Police Department. When officers are called to the scene, there are certain procedures they are allowed to do:
- If someone commits indecent exposure, residents should write down the description of who did it so police can find and talk to the person. Police officers have to witness the act to write a ticket for indecent exposure but can still talk to someone after the fact if there is video evidence or if witnesses can identify the person who did it.
- If officers suspect someone of underage drinking, they are able to ask for identification.
- If an officer has to repeatedly return to the same home, residents can be ticketed for disorderly conduct.
Source: Lt. Kerry Atwood, Franklin Police Department
Franklin College does not choose where students live if they decide to move off-campus, but there are some rules that the college has in place:
- Students have to be seniors before they move off-campus, unless they reside in town
- In order to be considered a resident of Johnson County, the student needs to reside with his or her parents
Since 2012, more than a dozen calls have been made to the police for disturbances, intoxication and loud noise near Franklin College and East Jefferson Street.
3 calls due to noise
1 call for illegal parking
1 call for harassment
1 call for alcohol
Since 2006, 20 calls were made to one residence on South Hougham Street for noise offenses. No tickets have been issued.