Berkeley resident seeks legal action against campus fraternities

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The residential house on the frat row block of Durant Avenue is almost undetectable, dwarfed by the shade of a large tree and guarded by a metal gate. During the day, the street generally appears quiet and unassuming, but the house’s occupant alleges that at night, he faces death threats and roaring noise from neighboring fraternities, which, he said, drove him to move out of his neighborhood — and to take legal action.

Paul Ghysels, who is in his 60s, formerly lived in a home sandwiched between two fraternities and is pursuing a lawsuit against the campus’s Interfraternity Council, or IFC — as well as individuals, organizations and property owners associated with 35 campus fraternities.

The home was first occupied by Ghysels’ in-laws. Ghysels and his wife later moved into the home but relocated after he filed the lawsuit in 2010. His brother-in-law currently lives on the property. Although Ghysels once found his neighbors conciliatory, he said he experienced increasing problems in more recent years that caused him to move out.

“We’ve been having problems with many of our neighbors,” Ghysels said. “In order for us to stay, we need to curb that behavior.”

The lawsuit speaks to longstanding complaints from Southside neighbors, spurring the city to take action. Most recently, Berkeley City Council has considered placing tighter regulations on group living accommodations, which include Greek houses.

But critics of the propositions have said regulations exist and simply need to be enforced. Several IFC executive officers have also met with city administration in order to find a solution to complaints.

Living among fraternities

In the lawsuit first filed Jan. 19, 2010, Ghysels alleges that neighboring campus fraternities had acted to create nuisances, including public drunkenness and excessive noise.

The campus currently recognizes 31 fraternities and 15 sororities, with members of the Greek community constituting approximately 13 percent of the undergraduate population, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore.

Neighboring fraternities yelled death threats at Ghysels and threw objects into his yard, alleged Yolanda Huang, an attorney who is currently representing Ghysels.

“Fraternities are supposed to be providing low-cost housing. That’s not what they view themselves as,” Huang said. “They’re required to abide by the same rules as any other landlord in the city of Berkeley.”

Though Ghysels no longer resides in the house, he still keeps surveillance cameras on, regularly uploading video footage of seemingly drunken individuals online.

In a video posted by Ghysels on Jan. 20, an individual is seen tripping over a trash can while directing expletives at a passer-by. Another video uploaded in February shows a car being driven on the sidewalk.

IFC president James Stewart said the body could not comment on ongoing legal cases. IFC vice president of external affairs Daniel Saedi, though, said the council has seen “tangible results” in its efforts to respond to neighborhood complaints, especially by prohibiting hard alcohol in common areas at open parties.

Regulations in place

Fraternity houses located on Piedmont and Durant avenues are zoned as multifamily residential buildings and have an exterior noise limit of 55 decibels — akin to that of an indoor conversation — between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

In response to neighborhood complaints, Berkeley Police Department works in tandem with UCPD, as well as the Southside Safety Patrol — a joint police patrol by the two departments — on weekends, focusing on nuisance violations in the south campus area, according to BPD spokesperson Officer Jennifer Coats.

Additionally, area coordinators from the department reach out to numerous student organizations, such as fraternities, to provide educational presentations on alcohol consumption and sexual assault.

Huang also expressed hope that Ghysels’ lawsuit will help bring light to cases of sexual assault at fraternities.

In 2013, 33 forcible sexual offenses were recorded on or around campus, including but not exclusively at fraternities, and at least nine sexual assaults were reported in the campus area in the first two months of the current school year, according to the 2014 UC Berkeley Annual Security Report.

If any citation is issued, according to Coats, area coordinators will follow up and work with the involved property owners and fraternities, which often receive a higher number of city code violations than other multiresident homes.

In 2005, the Advisory Council on Student-Neighbor Relations was created and aimed to implement changes in both the campus and the city, including the requirement that new students take a three-hour online alcohol education course.

The council met two times last year and will meet again in the fall 2015 semester, according to Ruben Lizardo, director of local and community government and community relations on campus.

“I think that an impact is already done through the programs we’ve instituted,” Saedi said.

In Huang’s opinion, however, BPD and the campus have been “hands off” in handling complaints. She said responses only come when an active complaint is made, calling the complaint process “complicated.”

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, whose district covers half of the Piedmont area containing most fraternity houses, said the lawsuit is “unreasonable.”

The case is going through discovery, a pretrial process in which both parties obtain evidence. Ghysels is asking for, among other provisions, fraternities to cease the serving of alcohol to minors and the lowering of outside noise. A trial date will be set soon, according to Huang.

The city taking action

Despite actions already taken, existing tension between fraternities and Southside neighbors over the years has spurred the city to propose additional management plans.

Most recently, an agenda item aiming to extend certain regulations to group living accommodations — including fraternities and sororities — was presented by city manager Christine Daniel to Berkeley City Council on its Tuesday meeting agenda.

Some of the regulations discussed in the item currently extend only to mini-dorms — housing units that have six or more unrelated persons over the age of 18.

The measure was proposed in part to protect residents of group living accommodations, as well as help “reduce any potential detrimental impacts” of large gatherings, according to the agenda item.

If the measure were passed, the city would amend municipal codes, placing more rigid control on Greek houses. Gatherings of 10 or more people would end by 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and by midnight Friday and Saturday. Additionally, gatherings would be capped at 100 people.

The item, however, has been scheduled for further discussion in a work session planned for the fall.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, who has worked in partnership with the campus IFC and Panhellenic Council, said the proposal is “punitive” and “arguably illegal,” saying that it breaches the constitutional right to assemble.

Stewart and Saedi also met with the city attorney to address their concerns with the amendment, especially regarding what they described as its ambiguous language. Saedi said the city is considering amending parts of the item in the coming months.

“Let’s have a conversation and work with the Greek community to address bigger issues,” Arreguin said.

Ghysels said that the council item could potentially “save lives” but that enforcement of any laws, existing or new, would be the key to success.

Though now retired, Ghysels had previously worked as a firefighter, trauma nurse and paramedic. According to Ghysels, he had previously tended to intoxicated students who had been wheeled out on gurneys from fraternities, a phenomenon he hopes to see come to an end.

But Ghysels’ main hope is to move back to the home that has been in his family for years. Looking to the future, Ghysels refers to the two generations of residents who have occupied the house on Durant Avenue.

“We had to temporarily move out (out of the house),” Ghysels said. “But we’re hoping to move back.”

Adrienne Shih is the lead city reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @adrienneshih.

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  • still trying

    Hey Gene, Just wondering. Was that you who did a face plant in my driveway. Is that why you are so defensive.
    Instead of attacking me personally, why not state some facts showing me wrong.

    • Gene Nelson

      Because you are a total loser and it’s easy to make fun of your empty life.

      Pity the troll folks — hating on frats is all he has in his sorry lonely life.

  • Gene Nelson

    How sad, Still. LOL has but one post and the account was created on the weekend. You are that sad that you have to create an account to support you since no one else does. Bahahahah. You truly are someone to pity.

  • still trying

    This is a good place to show the retarded mentality of frat boys.
    Thanks for the help.

  • Gene Nelson

    Gee First post. Created the account today? Bahahahahah. Nice try, Ghysels

  • still trying

    It used to be 50 50 student-long term resident, until the City and UC started ignoring dangerous behavior. Plus there are lots of laws that we do not like but they are good for the whole of society, not just a few. Paying taxes. Also, I get emails thanking me from students in the area who do not belong to frats, that likes it quieter so they can study. Many students do not have mommy and daddy’s money to have other people do their work..

  • still trying

    “Let kids be kids.” Because people die and are assaulted. Lets ignore global warming, Lets ignore police brutality and the cover ups. Lets ignore inequality. I can go on all day.

    • Gene Nelson

      And you do go on all day. Beautiful sunday and you spent it on your obsession.
      Again — NO LIFE. Pity this troll — hating on frats is all he has

      • still trying

        And yes it was a beautiful day. I sat next to the pool and enjoyed the sun and warmth.

        Good night John and Gene.

        • Gene Nelson

          You mean you sat next to the pool with your laptop and obsessed on frats all day. Bahahahahah. how sad your life is.

          • still trying

            I did yard work. When you grow up. Work needs to be done.

  • still trying

    Is Berkeley really green?

    The frats with the City’s help continuously break State and Federal EPA laws

  • still trying

    37% of underage undergrads at Cal, drink at fraternities, twice the national average. Stats from student health. With these stats, crimes follow.
    If you have 36 unlicensed, unregulated, unsupervised bars and the serving and monitoring is done by teenagers, guess what happens?

    • John

      A quote from last fall’s Daily Cal. “Six of the eight cases reported by UCPD between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. last Monday originated from university residence halls, and all eight involved underage students being transported to the hospital for further medical care.”
      So although 15% of the Cal community is Greek 75% of alcohol retaliated calls during fall’s welcome week come from the University “supervised” residence halls. There is no mention where the other calls originated from. So maybe those “unsupervised” fraternities do a better job taking care of their guests then those trying to use general campus statistics to place blame on the Greek system.

      On a separate note, I love how it is never mention that Paul has tried to extorting money from his neighbor not report noise complaints to the University or the police department.

      • still trying

        Most student housing has issues related to drinking. This behavior has been ignored for some time now. We know many if not most complaints to police, go unreported. Look at the video. Also john, how have I tried to extort money from the frats. You truly do not know what you are talking about. Read, learn then comment. Your ignorance shows.

        • John

          Ignorant? I am not saying there are drinking issues at Cal. What I am saying is that you are trying to place all of the at the foot of the Fraternity system in order to inflate your lawsuit however the fact do not support your claims. If fraternities had a greater negative effect on drinking issues like alcohol related trips to the hospital then more than 15%, the percentage of the campus community the Greek system represents, of those transports would be from fraternities.
          Instead we see just the opposite, a lower percentage of transports from Berkeley fraternities. Now unlike you I will admit these are correlational and not necessarily causative, but unlike you I am making claims that are in line with the correlational results you are not. I believe that they coordinate because there is a high level of drinking at the University and the Greek system has members looking out for each other and taking care of those in need and therefore the intoxicated persons have better outcomes then intoxicated persons outside of the Greek system at Cal. And just to anticipate your response. Better does not mean zero negative outcomes.

          • still trying

            I worked at the ER. I know some calls are not reported. At Cal, 37% of underage kids at Cal drink at frats. Twice the national average. I have video of frat kids too drunk to walk and needed to be carried and BPD and UCPD drive right by. I have video of fights at frats and showing BPD and UCPD driving right by. All in front of frats. You need to look at videos and learn Did you see the ABC news on EMS and ER OVERLOAD at CAL. THOUGHT NOT.

          • John

            I did see the video of ER overload at Cal. How many of those patients came from the Greek system? BTW underage drinking and over drinking are not the same. Do those 37% exclusively drink at fraternities?
            Saying there is a drink problem at Cal is one thing blaming it on the fraternities needs more evidence than you have presented.
            And although I don’t have the video to support it I have seen fights at bars, and football games, at concerts, and at protests. Are fights over represented at
            fraternities or is this just how 18-23 year olds act being away from home for the first time and money source you are going after, fraternities, has no effect either way?

          • John

            I am asking you to separated the statistic about the University as a whole from the Greek community. That is the only way to show that the fraternities have a negative effect on alcohol related ER visits, deaths, and arrests.

          • Gene Nelson

            John. The guy is a nut job. Lonely and all alone. Pathetically obsessed with frats. No matter how much logic you present he will never admit or agree for hating on frats is all he has in life. He has nothing without it, so he can’t let go of it.

          • still trying

            Again about fights at bars. Berkeley spends a great deal of money each year suing liquor stores and bars under a public nuisance for those exact reasons. The city is now getting ready to put up cameras in those areas.
            John, at Cal, underage drinkers that do not get drunk and do not cause problems are not the issue. But unfortunately, those that drink at frats have a tendency to over indulge and then cause problems.

          • still trying

            John, by addressing that 37% you could make a large impact on behavior.
            Which other way do you propose that we could greatly affect student safety by 37%, addressing only one area; frat behavior.

          • still trying

            I’m sorry John but it appears you swallowed the propaganda from UC and the frats.

            “I believe that they coordinate because there is a high level of drinking at the University and the Greek system has members looking out for each other and taking care of those in need and therefore the intoxicated persons have better outcomes then intoxicated persons outside of the Greek system at Cal.”
            Like death. You have had two recently.
            And before you say, just one, Find out where most of the drinking occurred regarding the death in December.
            If you had looked at the videos before speaking, you would have seen your comment not to be true.

      • still trying

        “On a separate note, I love how it is never mention that Paul has tried to extorting money from his neighbor not report noise complaints to the University or the police department.”

        This again shows your ignorance. Learn before you speak. I have more than 6000
        emails to UC and the city complaining of problems going back to 1997. With no help. I have a website that has a few emails posted. This comments section has a video I posted showing many letters to UC and the City. I truly hope you are not a representation of the caliber of student that UC’S excepts. Or maybe you are just a frat boy. That would explain it.

        • John

          You are completely ignoring my argument. You have a two hour video that spans 1997-2015 or 157680 hours or 0.0013% of the time you have been filming. That is not including the reuse of the same clips which one might think you do not have enough footage to fill the entire time.
          “Most student housing has issues related to drinking.” But you are not suing all student housing around the campus you are suing 34 fraternities. Why do the fraternities on Piedmont owe YOU damages? On Warring? You have video from one fraternity when you are located between two and behind a third. Where is the video from the other sided of you property?
          But please continue to attack me as ignorant and leave the argument to stand unchallenged.

          • still trying

            John. Again you did not watch. That video is from 2014-2015 school year. In 2 hours of video, only 8 minutes is devoted to prior years. It was meant to show no change had occurred even after losing its charter. And that this particular frat was on probation and not allowed to have parties, but did anyway. Against the rule.. I also have a lot of video from Warring and other frats showing the same thing. John, I would love to fill you in on everything, since it appears you are truly clueless regarding this case, but after just a few posts from you, it clearly shows you are not up to comprehending this situation.. Go back through the Daily Cal, you will see the reason. Also look at frat discipline. Every year roughly one third of the Greek system is on probation. The names of the frats change, but the list never goes down. So roughly every 3-4 years, each frat is sanctioned by UC at least once. This behavior is an unnecessary burden on Berkeley taxpayer and a safety risk as well.

          • still trying

            John reusing clips are for people like you, that need constant reminding.
            It’s to make a point, in case you missed it the first time, second time, third time.

          • Gene Nelson

            Were 2 or 3 thousand of your emails also reminders? bahahahahah.

        • Gene Nelson

          He admits to that many emails.

          No other proof or discussion is necessary. This is a whack-job with no other life. Pity this troll — hating on frats is all he has in his life.

          • still trying

            Gene, if you remembered in your previous post. You stated that I was extorting money from the frats by not complaining to the police and then filing suit.. Which is it Gene. You can not have it both ways.
            And yes it was a beautiful day. I sat next to the pool and enjoyed the sun and warmth.

            Good night John and Gene.

      • still trying

        John, I also have video showing drunk kids being carried out of frats and taken to the dorms before calling EMS.

  • still trying


    Check out link. I have several similar videos of more Berkeley
    frats acting the same or worse. By allowing these frats to party, relatively
    unsupervised, the city and UC are putting the lives of their students and town
    residents at risk, due to underage drinking, the long ambulance delays on
    weekends and overloaded ER’s This video and 100′, more like this one shows a
    Greek system in critical need for change.

    • Gene Nelson

      No one cares what you think or want to happen. Notice the absolute lack of support on this forum. Notice that you have to file the suit by yourself. Notice no one cares about you except for the gratitude of having something to laugh at.

      • still trying

        We shall see.

  • Arik Katzenberg

    I think I fell for a boy named Arik Katzenberg

  • Gene Nelson

    This must be the STILL TRYING poster who just can’t stop obsessing about fraternity life. Man needs to find his own life.

    • still trying

      After seeing years of deaths and injuries occurring at Berkeley frats, it’s time for change.

      • Gene Nelson

        Yep, it’s him. Dude, you need to get laid or find some sort of distraction.
        And your response? So it will be YOU who will save lives and make change? Wow — think much of yourself? Why not go move next to an airport, and then complain about how the noise of the planes is a problem.

        • still trying

          Airports are required by law and are regulated with noise laws that are strictly enforced.
          Not in Berkeley. The laws are in place, but ignored by authorities. Another example of the 1% getting preferential treatment. Have anymore ridiculous comment. Not to mention the lives you put at risk from the general population of Berkeley by your illegal behavior. And yes, saving lives and injury is a noble act. Try it some time, you might feel better about yourself.

  • Christopher Robin

    Did this man not understand that he was purchasing a house between two fraternities? I think it’s actually really unfair to move into a place and then expect longstanding behavior of a neighborhood to be changed to accommodate the needs of the newcomer. If the real estate agent never disclosed that the property was in the middle of frat row, then maybe he should try sueing them, but otherwise he should just chalk it up to a bad decision on his part and sell the property to someone who has a better tolerance to/appreciation of the traditionally, say, “festive” atmosphere.

    • this is traditional nimby behavior

      • still trying

        This is not nimby behavior. I lived here for ten years before my first complaint. Things have changed regarding drinking and frats. After more than 40 years caring for injured people, I feel it is necessary to speak out when deaths, injury and sexual assaults are becoming way too common and that these events are mostly preventable but ignored by those in authority.

        • Gene Nelson

          Yeah, that’s right, Jesus. God sent you to save the world.

    • still trying

      READ THE ARTICLE. The house has been in the family since 1927 and was there before the frats.
      “Ghysels refers to the two generations of residents who have occupied the house on Durant Avenue.”

      • Gene Nelson

        Well, the world changed. And left you behind. Now all you have is your obsession with frats. Again, get a life, dude.

        • still trying

          My hopes are, that someday it’s not your child that dies or is sexually assaulted because of poor supervision. And Gene, I do have a life and have experienced things that you could only dream about. By the time I was 21, I had traveled around the world almost 3 times and lived in and visited more countries than you can count. By the time you reach 21, can you say the same. I am now in my 60’s, have 2 degrees, and retired at age 55.
          Good luck.

    • cal.bear

      Try reading for comprehension- see where it says “But Ghysels’ main hope is to move back to the home that has been in his family for years”.

  • s randall

    When my son was living at Unit 1 he said that he would hear sirens going up the hill about 6 times on an average weekend. He assumed these were responses for cases of alcohol poisoning and the like. When I lived in Unit 1 in the 70s, I really don’t recall sirens.

    People drank and used drugs in the 70s, but I really think something is different now. I don’t recall anyone dying from alcohol poisoning or from head trauma from falling down drunk. Maybe it’s because things were publicized then, but I think not.

    I think it’s time to address these issues, because it seems different now.