BELMAR, N.J. – A blogger calling himself Belmar Benny sat at his computer recently and predicted what the summer of 2007 would be like at the rental home he shares with his buddies.
"Partying 'till daylight, banging pots and pans together, tossing the kitchen table on the roof, hanging the furniture upside down from the ceiling, waking up the neighborhood with a contraption called The Horn On A Board, smashing glassware over each other's heads," he wrote.
But Belmar officials were reading his blog, promising to counter "Horn On A Board" with "Cop On Your Porch."
Monitoring blogs is the newest tactic in Belmar's effort to keep its rowdy group rentals under control in one of the Jersey shore's last party towns.
The borough's efforts are led by a mayor who patrols the street looking for trouble and backed by fines that can reach into the thousands of dollars. Police officers hand-deliver lists of do's and don't to renters, and a Web site plots troublesome rentals on a map.
"It's all about peaceful coexistence," Mayor Ken Pringle said. "We're not trying to make Belmar into a sleepy town. We just want it to be able to sleep."
Belmar, located five miles south of Asbury Park, has 7,000 year-round residents, but its population swells to 60,000 in the summer.
In 1990, there were more than 1,200 summer rental units; today, there are a little more than 300. Lots that once held ramshackle huts now boast $800,000 homes whose residents are not shy about calling police to complain about noise.
"This past weekend it was nice weather, and you want to sleep with your windows open, except for all the people yelling and screaming," said Esther Spivak, who has lived on her street for 21 years. "I said `forget it' and put the air conditioning on. And even then, when the bars let out, I still got woken up with all the people yelling outside, and the taxis pulling up and slamming doors. I woke up exhausted the next day."
This summer, Pringle started writing a weekly online newsletter that was also distributed to renters. Besides information on city ordinances and services (such as garbage pickup and recycling dates), the newsletter also smacks violators with a different type of trash talk.
One group of renters received its fifth summons less than a month after moving in. Pringle wrote that they give "new meaning to the term 'slow learners.' Or maybe they're just extremely wealthy. Whatever they're thinking (or more likely, not thinking), we'll be more than happy to keep taking their money at the violations window in Borough Hall."
The newsletter also points out many of the measures Belmar has taken in recent years, including hiring off-duty sheriff's officers to stand outside the rowdiest houses. Seventy-eight houses in Belmar have been designated Category 1 "Animal Houses," meaning their renters have multiple convictions for quality of life violations. Their owners are required to post a bond of up to $5,000.
Not everyone appreciates the humor. Kevin Fay, who owns two rental properties, said the mayor's tone is insulting and scaring away tourists.
"Instead of saying, 'Welcome to Belmar, please obey our laws and regulations,' he hits them over the head with a sledgehammer and says, 'Leave your money at the curb and leave town,"' Fay said.
Pringle said the real estate market has made it more profitable for landowners to knock down shacks and build year-round houses. Rowdy rentals can bring down property values.
Belmar is quick to slap a summons on someone who violates one of its many rules, including playing beer pong or having an inflatable swimming pool on the front lawn, or putting trash or recyclables out too soon, or in the wrong container or without a borough-supplied orange tag affixed. Fines run from $250 to $2,000.
Any house that is the subject of a noise complaint gets a visit the next morning by a code inspector. Belmar assesses higher fines for noise violations as the hours get later — an idea borrowed from a local bar that raises drink prices with each passing hour. A shouted curse that costs $350 at 11 p.m. would cost $750 by 2 a.m.
Despite the summonses his neighbors have received, 23-year-old Josh Seery of Robbinsville and his housemates are having a blast this summer, mainly by following one simple rule.
"Just don't be stupid," he said. "Have fun, but be respectful. We know not to have too many people over, especially people we don't even know. That's when things get out of hand."
Belmar Benny realizes police are serious about locking up troublemakers.
"A friend of mine once got arrested and spent the night in a municipal court cell," he wrote on his blog. "He said it was the quietest night of sleep he ever got in Belmar!"