There’s no party like the high-octane rowdiness of a wild frat party, unless you’re not a college student and you’re stuck living in a neighborhood filled with fraternities. In that case, those wild parties can become a huge problem.
That’s what Paul Ghysels says has happened to him. The Vietnam veteran and former firefighter moved to Berkeley, California, with his wife into her old family home, which is now sandwiched between two fraternity houses on the edge of the University of California-Berkeley’s boisterous Frat Row.
Ghysels, 61, said he has installed more than $60,000 worth of surveillance gear around his house, and has compiled enough footage for a documentary on the debauchery. He said he has captured footage of half-naked women, public urination just outside his window and plenty of other lewd and aggressive behavior.
“I have video of them throwing 1.75-liter glass bottles of vodka off their tower, at the front door of our house,” he said.
Ghysels is no thin-skinned wimp. He used to help launch Navy planes from aircraft carriers, then worked as a firefighter-EMT in the Chicago area for more than a decade. But in 1988, he and his wife decided to forge a fresh start in Berkeley.
“My wife always wanted to move back to this house,” he said. “This was her grandmother’s house.”
Their street, just a block from the U.C.-Berkeley campus, was nestled among two dozen frats, and their house sits between two of them. In the beginning, Ghysels said they got along fine with their college-aged neighbors.
“When we first moved here things were actually pretty good,” he said. “We were invited to the fraternities for their Monday night lobster and steak dinners, and I did many things for the fraternities.”
But over the years, Ghysels said things have changed. With the explosion of cellphones and social media, he said, word of parties on Frat Row goes viral and, suddenly, the weekend frat parties ballooned from 50 people to more than 500.
“The behavior was becoming more outrageous,” he said. “[The parties] were going until 3, 4, 5 in the morning.”
Then he started complaining about the loud noise, garbage in the street, heavy items being thrown near his house and lewd behavior. Ghysels said that’s when things got personal.
He said some of his fraternity neighbors began to break into his house, throw pieces of furniture on his roof, vomit and defecate near his property line, even leave him death threats on his answering machine.
When the Berkeley Police have been called, Ghysels said they have responded, but the parties haven't stopped.
“We’re under siege and we’re not getting really any help from the university or the authorities,” he said.
And he isn’t the only neighbor complaining. Ghysels’ attorney Yolanda Huang has a copy of the long list of calls area residents have made to Berkeley police over the years concerning the frats. Huang says it’s an average of 400 calls a year.
“There’s no arrests,” Huang said. “They say, ‘Oh, boys, behave,’ but no one’s taken to jail.”
The Berkeley Police Department told “20/20” in a statement that it "takes all crimes seriously and tries to address community concerns regarding noise complaints, loud parties and alcohol issues.” Read the full statement at the end of the story.
The university said in a statement that it “regularly works with U.C. Berkeley-recognized fraternities and sororities... on safety, wellness and risk management.” The university added that it can strip a frat of university affiliations if it finds it in violation, and has in the past.
But Ghysels said that’s not enough, and that some of the frats that have lost affiliation continue to remain active.
He and his wife moved out of the house in 2010. A relative still lives there and Ghysels keeps his surveillance cameras rolling. He filed a lawsuit against almost everyone connected to his dispute over nuisance complaints, including 34 fraternities.
“Our goal is to win in court, to have some change, to have some civility in this neighborhood,” he said.
An attorney for several of the defendants in Ghysels' suit told “20/20” in a statement, “after four years of litigating the deficiencies in [Ghysels’] complaints... the class claims were defeated and dismissed."
Ghysels’ original lawsuit was dismissed. He appealed and refiled the lawsuit, now going forward under a Berkeley Municipal Code ordinance, which attorney Michael Osborne said “the 72 defendants continue to defend vigorously." The defendants consist of fraternity undergraduate chapters, housing corporations, which own the various chapter houses, a property management company, a property manager, and the Interfraternity Council, which represents frats across the country.
But Ghysels, who is now battling cancer, says he’ll keep fighting as long as he’s able so that he and his wife can one day move back home.
“I’m strong enough to continue this, and to keep it going until we have a resolution,” he said. “My friends say that it’s probably because of this that I’m still alive. You know, because I feel so strongly about this problem.”
Berkeley Police Department’s Full Statement to ABC News:
The Berkeley Police Department takes all crimes seriously and tries to address community concerns regarding noise complaints, loud parties and alcohol issues.
We accomplish this through many different avenues. We have partnered with agencies like the UC Berkeley Police Department (UCPD) as well as the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC).
At the beginning of the school we partnered with ABC to conduct enforcement on alcohol-related crimes. We have done this in the past as well, with the assistance of ABC. BPD and ABC focused on four major points, possessing an open alcoholic beverage in public, reducing the availability of alcohol to persons under the age of 21, identifying minors who attempt to purchase or procure alcohol with false forms of identification and the over service of alcoholic beverages.
In addition to those efforts officers were tasked with responding to reports of intoxicated person in public and worked with the Berkeley Fire Department to provide medical treatment when necessary.
We continued our partnership with UCPD. We conducted Southside Safety Patrols, which generally run Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Teams of BPD and UCPD officers worked jointly to patrol the neighborhoods surrounding the campus. The patrols are focused on enforcing laws related to alcohol offenses. Officers also address nuisance issues affecting the neighborhoods surrounding the campus, such as large and unruly parties. We issue violations and citations when appropriate.
Also, using our website, Nixle and community groups we sent out informational flyers reminding people to celebrate responsibly.
Our Area Coordinators as well as our Sex Crimes Detectives have and continue to make presentations to student organizations, fraternities and sororities on the importance of sexual assault prevention and the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption.
Members of our staff meet regularly with City Staff, UCPD, Berkeley Fire, and other UC stakeholders to determine the best course of action or implement new programs in dealing with these types of issues.