City looks for new ways to fight noise

Holmes Beach nuisance pool sticker
This sticker is required to be placed on doors exiting to pool areas in short-term vacation rental units to remind renters of their residential neighbors and alert them to the city’s noise level thresholds. - File Photo | Sun

HOLMES BEACH – City commissioners want to give residents some relief from ongoing noise issues at rental properties in their residential neighborhoods. Unfortunately finding a solution that’s effective and legally enforceable is proving to be a difficult task.

Attorney Jim Dye presented commissioners with possible suggestions for the development of a nuisance ordinance to combat repeat noise ordinance offenders. The issue, Dye said, is that in order for a property to be considered a nuisance, there must be a violation notice issued or fine levied against occupants. Without a violation recorded, any calls to the property for noise issues won’t count toward whatever number of violations commissioners determine to constitute a nuisance. Police Chief Bill Tokajer said that out of the many calls for noise issues the department receives, only a few have resulted in violations and none so far this year have been issued at the same address.

Tokajer reported that out of 176 calls for noise issues to the police department, 16 resulted in citations and three involved the renters being evicted from the property.

“Once we issue a citation or knock on the door we don’t usually get a call to go back,” he said.

Currently, officers respond as quickly as possible to noise complaints with a noise meter. If the complainant identified themselves when calling, officers can go to the location where the noise was observed to take a decibel reading with the noise meter. Unfortunately for officers, Tokajer said the vast majority of calls, around 85 percent, are anonymous. In those instances, he said the only recourse for officers is to go to the property line in the front and back to take two meter readings in each location. If the noise is found to not be above 65 decibels during the day or 50 decibels after 10 p.m., officers still go knock on the door of the reported property to alert the inhabitants that a noise complaint has come into the department. If the decibel reading is over the day or nighttime limit, a citation is issued.

To help better enforce the city’s noise ordinance, Tokajer suggested allowing people who call in to complain about a noise issue to remain anonymous on police reports but also identify themselves to officers so that the responding officer can take a decibel reading from the area where the noise was observed. Commissioners agreed with the suggestion.

Holmes Beach noise meter
Code enforcement officer James Thomas holds one of the city’s two noise meters during a public forum at city field. – File Photo | Sun

Code enforcement officers also are going to properties where multiple noise complaints have been called in to welcome new renters on weekends and advise them of the city’s noise regulations. Tokajer said the program has been effective at reducing the number of calls to the department. Currently, 11 rental units are a part of the outreach program.

Commissioners instructed Tokajer to keep current programs in place to help enforce the noise ordinance and reduce disturbances to residents. They also asked him to work with Dye to develop a nuisance ordinance addressing not only noise but other chronic issues as well, such as improper dumping of materials, improperly placed garbage and recycling receptacles and vacation rental certificate program violations. Commissioners agreed to revisit the noise ordinance as quickly as possible to readdress the city’s decibel limits, nighttime hours and violation fines.

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