By Michael Jacobs

The recession’s latest impact is disturbing the peace of some nice neighborhoods.

Members of the board of Neighborhood Planning Unit A (NPU-A) complained to police representatives at the board’s monthly meeting May 5 about an increasing problem with house parties in the Buckhead area.

The issue isn’t residents getting too rowdy while having a few dozen friends over. Instead, NPU-A members said, homeowners desperate for cash are renting out their houses as party sites, and hundreds of people are engaging in drunken revelry that can last through the night or the whole weekend.

Linda Trower, NPU-A’s secretary, said parties are becoming common in homes for sale as their owners look for help paying mortgages while waiting out the real estate slowdown.

“It’s the party rentals that are torturing our neighborhoods,” she said.

The impact on neighborhoods includes noise, streets clogged with parked cars and garbage. But the parties themselves aren’t illegal, putting police officers in a gray area when people call in complaints.

As explained at the meeting, city residents don’t need permits to hold parties at private residences, even if 900 people crowd into the house. Alcohol licensing, however, can be an issue if the party crosses the line from a gathering of invited guests to an event open to strangers, particularly if people pay for admission, police Lt. John Demmitt said.

Regardless of the technicalities, the lieutenant advised people to call 911 if a party nearby is troublesome.

“Just because it’s not illegal doesn’t mean it’s right,” he said of the parties.

Police can’t just shut down parties, but they can issue warnings and citations for some of the problems associated with the parties, from noise to public safety issues. If cars are parked too close to driveways, fire hydrants or intersections or are facing the wrong way on the street, officers can ticket them.

“We’re going to find the laws we can enforce,” Demmitt said, adding that officers have wide latitude as long as they can justify their actions.

In cases in which parties have corporate sponsors — Trower mentioned a weekend rental by Microsoft — Demmitt suggested applying public pressure to those sponsors and informing them of what they are getting for their money. He said big companies probably are trusting intermediaries to handle the party details in a legal, neighborly way.

He also said Atlanta police officers know they’re not supposed to work as paid security at questionable house parties. Officers can lose the privilege of taking outside work if they violate the rules, Demmitt said.

On a related issue, Lt. Mark Cotter said police in Zone 2 are focusing on the growing issue of vacant houses.