PARTY MYTHS

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.

Do Tenants Have A Right To Party?

The short answer is – NO.  There is no such thing as the ‘right to party.’ It is just wishful thinking on the part of tenants, especially college students, that as American citizens, you have a right to party. The ‘right to party’ is not a recognized legal concept. There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution about the right of citizens to have parties. There is no place in the United States where federal, state, or local laws protect the right of citizens to have parties. There is also nothing in the Bill of Rights or U.N. Charter about it. Partying is not a human right.

‘We are fighting for our right to party!’ I am writing this piece because on October 31, 2015; there was a huge riot in Berkeley. It was Halloween and the night of the big UC Berkeley – USC football game, both considered by some students to be good reasons for getting drunk. Between 3,000 and 5,000 students participated in the ensuing riot on Frat Row. Car windshields were smashed, people were physically assaulted, police were assaulted too, gunshots were fired by unknown persons, and there were several arrests. Some of the students who were arrested, and I assume drunk, told police and that they were ‘fighting for our right to party.’ See: Frat Row riot.

Lease and other contracts restricting or banning parties are legal and enforceable. Many leases restrict or ban tenants from having parties. In college towns like Berkeley, nearly all leases restrict parties in some way. Many leases ban partying outright. In many places in the U.S., homeowners are also banned from having parties. It’s true. Many condominium CC&Rs (Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions) prohibit parties or limit the number of people who can come to a party or set an ending time for parties. There are also a lot of planned communities in the United States where individual homeowners are prohibited from having parties by deed restrictions. Leases and other contracts restricting and banning parties are enforceable in court everywhere in the United States.

Notifying the neighbors in advance. There is a widely held myth that you have a right to have a loud party late at night, providing that you notify your neighbors in advance. That is not true! This too is just wishful thinking. 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 give the bank advance notice that you intend to rob them. Somebody idiot actually did that here in Berkeley. Many years ago, there used to be a Bank of America branch near my house across the street from the Ashby BART station. It was once robbed by a lone gunman. The bank robber was quickly caught. At his trial, the bank robber told the court that he sent a letter to the branch manager a week before he robbed the bank informing him of his intention to rob the bank. The bank manager acknowledged that he received and read the letter but didn’t do anything about the it because he thought the letter was a prank. The bank robber was found guilty and sent to prison. He did not get off because he told the bank in advance that he planned to rob them. The idea that it is legally O.K. to have loud parties late at night providing that you told the neighbors in advance is an old myth that gets college students into trouble, sometimes big trouble.

Disturbing the peace. Preventing your neighbors from going to sleep at a reasonable hour, is illegal. You can be cited and fined or even arrested!  In addition, Berkeley has one of the toughest noise pollution laws in the United States. Berkeley policeman have decibel meters in their patrol cars. People having loud parties at night are regularly issued fines and sometimes arrested. The minimum fine in Berkeley for this is $750.00! Plus you could wind up with a arrest record and/or a criminal record.

Host responsibility. If you are going to have alcohol at a party in your home, remember that hosts are legally responsible for the consequences of their guest’s excessive drinking, whether you provide the booze or whether your guests bring their own. If someone gets drunk in your home, gets in his car, and has an accident while driving under the influence, you can be held responsible for the accident, even though you weren’t there. A lot of people think that drunk driving is a victimless crime, providing that nobody was hurt. Some people even think that drunk driving is funny, like in the ‘Arthur’ movies. I am not one of those people!  According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), 4,000 people are arrested every day for driving under the influence in the United States, and 1,000 Americans are killed every month by drunk drivers. When I was in college, I was nearly killed by a drunk driver myself. I was a passenger in a vehicle that was hit hard by a drunk driver who passed out at the wheel. Since that experience, I have had no sympathy for drunk drivers. If someone is unfit to drive a car, don’t let him!

Please remember – regardless of what you hear to the contrary – there is no such thing as the ‘right to party.’ You will just get into trouble if you believe it’s true.