, Salem, MA

February 4, 2013

Salem ordinance targets trouble houses


---- — SALEM — By last fall, virtually every beat cop in the city knew the way to 53 Lawrence St., a home in the Castle Hill neighborhood.

Shortly before midnight on Friday, Nov. 2, many of the patrol cars working the night shift sped to that address. It was the same call they had made — and for the same reason — a half-dozen times before: loud party.

This time, however, it was worse than usual.

Police could see groups of young adults in the front and back yards of the house and 30 to 40 people inside. Another group was walking down the street toward the house, but turned around as soon as they saw the blue lights.

Initially, when police banged on the door, nobody answered. Eventually, they got inside and arrested one of the tenants on a charge of disturbing the peace. At that time, several Salem State University students were living there, police said.

Officers issued a court summons to another resident and to nearly 40 of the “guests,” all on the same charge — disturbing the peace.

A few weeks later, Salem Police took another step. They issued a criminal complaint against the property owner for being the “keeper of a disorderly house.”

It was not the first time they had approached John J. Camire about getting control of a house that was drawing an inordinate amount of police and community resources.

“It’s a landlord that has not addressed the issue any time,” said Sgt. Dennis King of the Community Impact Unit, which tracks disorderly houses.

The Salem News was not able to reach Camire.

Although police have had to deal with loud parties for years, and responded to nearly 300 such calls last year, they say they now are fighting back with more force and getting better results due to a “disorderly house” ordinance passed last May by the Salem City Council.

The ordinance gives police more authority to go after owners who ignore repeated notifications following numerous incidents. Under the ordinance, fines start at $200 for a first offense and go to $300 for a third.

Last year, police notified about 30 property owners that their buildings were in danger of being classified as disorderly houses. They also issued 11 citations, which included fines of about $2,500, and took out four criminal complaints.

The biggest impact of the ordinance is not the fines and penalties, police say, but the deterrence.

“A majority of the time after they hear from us the first time, the problem is rectified,” said Sgt. Harry Rocheville, who heads the Community Impact Unit. “We have had landlords evict folks just because they don’t want the aggravation.”

A couple of landlords have even approached the police to ask how to handle problem tenants, Rocheville said.

“I would say 99 percent (of the notifications) result in a positive interaction with landlords, and the issue is addressed,” said King.

Rocheville said the credit for the successful enforcement should go to patrol officers, who respond to the calls and follow-up with tenants and landlords. He also credited other city departments, including health and building, with a coordinated enforcement effort on problem properties.

Even 53 Lawrence St., which had been the police’s No. 1 problem, appears to have turned around. For starters, it has new tenants.

“We haven’t been there since Dec. 1,” said King.

Tom Dalton can be reached at