Them's the Rules
A student guide to local rights and wrongs
College is a time for learning, right? But when you're not memorizing Shakespeare, differentiating equations or digging on geology, you may find that education isn't limited to the classroom. There's an awful lot of lessons those durned textbooks just don't teach, from why it's not a good idea to drink a pot of coffee and t-t-try to wr-wr-write a p-p-paper the night before it's due, to how to fashion a leak-proof beer funnel from household items. But some extracurricular activities actually can generate a slap from the long arm of the law. With that in mind, we've done a bit of homework for you and cobbled together some Cliff Notes on how to avoid learning those lessons the hard way. Feel free to rip this off.
While getting your first taste of freedom on the highway of life, you may find yourself occasionally ordered to the shoulder for a bite of reality. Believe it or not, roadside pullovers are a pretty dangerous part of being a police officer and, as Vermont allows legally concealed handguns, he or she will assume you're as dangerous as you act. It may seem excessive, but, according to Officer Ginger Radke with the Berlin Police Department, "[If you lunge] for the glove box, it raises our suspicion. You might be going for a weapon."
Here's what to do when you find the Fire and Ice flashing in your rear-view mirror:
-Turn your dome light on if it's dark and keep your hands visible.
-Don't assume you know why you're getting pulled over -- in his rush to nail you for speeding, the officer may not have noticed the red light you ran.
-Remember the adage about flies and honey: Be polite.
-If and when you're asked to get your license/registration, explain where it is before reaching for it.
-It's okay to disagree, but not at the side of the highway when the officer's in danger. Taking the ticket is no admission of guilt; you can always argue in the safety of a courtroom.
-If you're asked to do the field sobriety exercises, just go with the flow. "If you try to fight, it makes things worse," says Radke.
-As for illegal substances in the car -- if a cop sees your bong pipe, he or she can confiscate it, but otherwise needs your permission to search the vehicle, or sufficient cause to seize the vehicle and apply for a warrant.
-Parking violations are an easy way to meet the police, and no one likes it when the tow-trucks play hide-and-seek with your car. Tips for keeping the tickets off your windshield:
-- In Burlington, a car parked in the same place for five straight days is a car ticketed.
-- Read the meters! Two hours is two hours, no matter how much change you put in. This rule applies just as strictly on non-metered streets with a two-hour limit; in Middlebury, just moving your car to another space on the block isn't an excuse. Either find long-term parking or don't be downtown too long. (Burlington offers two free hours of parking in all city garages.)
-- Parking in front of fire hydrants and crosswalks anywhere is bad, bad, bad. Dittoin handicapped spaces, even if you're "just running into the store for a second."
-- If you must park on the street, pay attention to winter parking bans. In Burlington, flashing yellow lights warn you to move your car before or during a snowstorm, but in many towns nighttime on-street parking is illegal from November through April. Check with your local town hall to be sure.
-- If your vehicle's towed, a quick call to the police can likely locate it. In Bur-lington: 658-2704, x126; in Middlebury: 388-3191; in Montpelier: 223-3445; and in Johnson: 888-3502.
-- In Burlington it's legal to park your car on the wrong side of the road facing into traffic. But don't try it in Winooski -- there it will cost you $25.
-- Noise ordinances don't just apply to parties (see below) -- in Burlington you can be ticketed for pumping up the volume in your car. Sound audible from 25 feet away earns you a $200 fine. And that's for the first offense. If you're caught again within 24 months, ticket #2 will range from $300 to $500. The third strike is a criminal offense and could land you in jail.
Who doesn't love a good party? That is, besides your prudish neighbors. Your best bet is to get to know those neighbors and tell them when you're planning a shindig. They're the ones who are going to call the cops on you. If you're nice, they might call you first. If you live in Burlington, don't be surprised if the call comes from a roving band of citizens, police, University of Vermont staff and student leaders who patrol the streets at night armed with walkie-talkies, ready to summon the BPD. The city and UVM have teamed up to make neighborhoods quieter and safer for year-round folks and people who are trying to sleep.
But it's not just the party poopers you need to worry about -- get to know your guests. They can land you in a whole mess of trouble.
-The most obvious problem with parties is noise. Cities and towns have their own ordinances. They generally apply 24 hours a day, but it's the 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. period that you really need to worry about. In Winooski, the first fine for making a racket is $50. In Johnson it's $100 -- though you get half off if you pay within 20 days. In Montpelier it's $150. But break the law in Burlington and the first fine is $300 and three hours of work in a restorative-justice program for everyone on the lease, even if they weren't at the party. The second fine is $400 and reparative work. Subsequent infractions draw $500 fines and criminal penalties. Cash-strapped students, take note: If you contest your ticket, you may receive a slightly smaller fine in exchange for more work.
-Federal and state authorities couldn't care less that Outside Magazine calls UVM "420-friendly." Drug laws are still enforc-ed, both on and off-campus. According to state law, possession of even a small amount of weed can set you back up to $500 and/or land you in jail for six months. Dealing pot from your apartment or dorm room might seem like a great part-time job, but selling even half an ounce carries a maximum sentence of five years and/or $100,000. Growing your own is risky, too -- three little plants can cost three years and/or 10 grand. If you think that's draconian, go to the Vermont and U.S. Department of Justice Web sites and check out the laws governing harder drugs like Ecstasy, coke and heroin.
-Though it may help defray the cost of your party, charging your guests is risky business. It's cool if everyone chips in for the keg, but if you're making money off the deal, you're "furnishing without a license." Burlington City Attorney Gene Bergman calls that "a major criminal offense," punishable by fines from $100 to $1000 and/or a three- to 12-month jail term.
-Woe to anyone who gets caught serving to minors. Buying some kid a six-pack could net you a $1000 fine and/or up to two years in the brig. If he drinks a six-pack at your party, it could cost you between $500 and $2000 and/or jail time. If the kid gets in his car and injures or kills someone or himself, you're subject to fines up to $10,000 and can be imprisoned for up to five years.
-If you're a minor yourself, it's a crime for you to have or drink alcohol. This means that if you have alcohol in your possession, or if you run into a police officer while you're actually intoxicated, you can be fined up to $500 and/or be imprisoned for up to six months. The lesson here is, if you have to drink, be safe and keep it on the DL. Using a fake ID to buy alcohol will cost you between $50 and $192.50 and will result in a 60-day suspension of your driver's license.
-As a party host, you can also be criminally and civilly liable if your over-21 guests are injured, or if they damage any property. Like, say, if they smash someone's lawn ornament or trip walking home and smack their head.
-Party hosts and women in general should be alert to the possibility of sexual assault -- drunken hook-ups, seen by many as a rite of passage, can be dangerous. Beware of guests who might slip date-rape drugs into uncovered drinks, and keep an eye on intoxicated couples, especially if one person is clearly drunker than the other. The penalty for sexual assault in Vermont is 20 years, and/or $10,000. If you provided the alcohol that fueled the assault, you're potentially liable for criminal and civil damages, too.
-If you have a keg at your party, don't forget to return it within 60 days. Other-wise you could be fined up to $200.
-Don't let your guests park on the sidewalks or greenbelts. They'll get ticketed and you'll have committed a zoning violation. A fine runs $45. Illegal parking also tips off neighbors and cops that a party is in progress -- as do groups of people lining up outside your house.
-If the cops do show up, remember, they can't come in unless you invite them. But if you give them a hard time, or if they see 16-year-olds drinking or smoking pot in the hallway, they can seize the house and prevent anyone from leaving while they get a warrant.
-Don't forget to take out the garbage; if housing and code inspectors have reason to believe your place is a pit, they can give you 48 hours notice and inspect it. If they find it doesn't meet minimum housing standards, it could affect your lease. As in, you could be evicted and your house condemned.
-Speaking of garbage, be sure to keep it contained when you put it on the curb. Mounds of uncovered trash on your lawn on moving days or after a party could net a $75 fine. It's also illegal to dispose of unwanted furniture by chucking it on the greenbelt with a sign that says "Free." Haul those grungy couches to the dump, or keep them on the porch where they belong.
Everyone wants to leave college with a few stories of how they flaunted authority and engaged in some rabble-rousing during their wild and crazy youth. But sometimes you may rouse a little more rabble than you intended. So before you get talked into a game of midnight golf downtown, it's good to know the price of getting caught.
-Fireworks are not legal here (hey, we just got sparklers), so if you choose to send those skyrockets into flight, be prepared to pay a $100 fine or spend up to 30 days behind bars.
-Planning on nabbing a meal tray and hitting the slopes? Stay off the roads. Vermont law forbids "coasting upon the highways" except in "villages or cities having regulations respecting coasting."
-In Vermont, public drunkenness is not technically illegal, but there are laws against doing the things you're likely to do while wasted. Fighting, screaming Christ-mas carols in October, standing in traffic, peeing in traffic and anything else that falls under "disorderly conduct" can get you 60 days and a $500 fine -- mailed home.
-Damaging property can be costly, as well as netting you some time in a steel dorm room with your worst roommate ever. The numbers:
-- Under $250 of damage: six months and/or a $50 fine.
-- Under $1000 of damage: one year and/or a $1000 fine.
-- Over $1000 of damage: five years and/or a $5000 fine.
-If you're doing the damage with explosives, you get the full penalty no matter what the cost. And in addition to a fine, you generally have to pay for whatever you blew up as well.
-Careful with those cable wires! Tapping systems and damaging the equipment may only net you a $100 fine, but you're also liable for three times the "actual amount of damages sustained."
-Love to bowl? Well, just don't set up your alley next to a church or school building. According to Vermont law books, it's a $20 a day fine.
-Unless you're getting your degree in mortuary science, stay away from the graveyard. "Excavating, disinterring, removing or carrying away" anyone post-mortem (or anything they've taken with them) can cost you 10 grand and 15 years in the slammer.
-You may want to leave those WMDs at home, too. As of June 12, 2002, there are hefty penalties -- up to 30 years and 250K -- for wandering around with or accidentally unleashing those much-discussed Weapons of Mass Destruction. Even leaving a hoax vial out to scare the general public comes with a pretty serious slap: five years/10K.
HEY, I HAVE TO LIVE HERE
For those of you who, by choice or circumstance, live off-campus, finding affordable housing can be an ordeal. In the Old North End or in the Northeast Kingdom, habitable space is at a premium. Whether your price range tends toward a second-floor efficiency or a mountainside condo, however, certain protections are allotted to Green Mountain tenants. Here's the short list of your rights.
-Your landlord is required to ensure your abode is livable, has heat and water, and is safe to live in. Codes vary from town to town, but the state minimum says the temperature in your house must be able to reach 65 degrees when it's minus-15 out.
-If there's something wrong that could affect your health or safety, the landlord is obligated to fix it. If he or she won't, you can call your town's health officer. Find a list at http://www.healthyvermonters.info. You can also contact Vermont Tenants Inc. (see below).
-If something minor breaks, once you tell your landlord, she or he has 30 days to fix it. After that, you can hire the plumber, call in a carpenter or fix it yourself and withhold from your rent "the actual and reasonable" cost of repair -- as long as it's less than half the month's rent. This is called the "Repair and Deduct" law. Sweet, eh?
-Landlords must have your consent to come into the house and have to give you 48 hours notice. They can come in uninvited if they think that either you or the place is in imminent danger.
-Once you leave, your landlord must return your security deposit within two weeks unless he's keeping part of it for nonpayment of rent, a utility bill or damages. If the landlord doesn't send you the deposit or a statement of deductions inside that time, she or he forfeits the right to withhold -- and you're entitled to the whole thing.
-Don't have a lease? Many landlords prefer to rent on a monthly basis, but it doesn't mean you can be kicked out at any time. If the landlord wants you to leave, he or she is required to give you 60 days notice -- 90 days if you've been there two years or longer.
-You can be kicked out for not paying rent, but the landlord still must give you notice, and you've got two weeks to come up with the goods. As long as you pay all your back rent, you can't be evicted. But don't wait until the last minute too often. You can only defeat eviction notices three times in a given year before the landlord can legally evict you anyway.
For more information on your rights as a tenant, call the Vermont Tenants Inc. at 864-0099, or download their handbook, found at www.cvoeo.org.