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September 25, 2008 - 2:52pm

Fixing up the Neighborhoods: Part Two: Drunk and Loud, Shut it Down

posted by Philip Anselmo in community, city council, Neighborhoods.

Earlier, in our discussion of what the city should and should not do to help deal with the potential blight of absentee landlordism and other problem properties, city resident John Roach told us to take a look at what he called the "Slum Lord" control law. Roach said that this law was proposed in 2005, then tabled, never to return again. We asked the city for this law, and the office of the clerk responded quickly and courteously, sending us a copy of the proposed law with the note that the law had "failed" at a meeting of the City Council on December 12, 2005.

We have telephone City Councilman Frank Ferrando twice, yesterday and today, left two messages and sent him an e-mail to inquire more about this law, and get his thoughts on how the city ought to handle the problem. Ferrando was president of Council when that law "failed" in 2005.

We thought some further conversation on the issue might benefit if we took a look at some excerpts from that "failed" proposal. Before we do so, let me sum up what I found in the law: This law does not seem aimed at controlling properties in decline due to absentee landlordism, otherwise known as slum lord properties, as has been suggested by John Roach. Rather, it seems to concern properties that are frequently cited for loud noise and drunken reveling.

That being said, let's first look at the reasons outlined in the 2005 proposal for instituting such a public nuisance control law:

The City Council, after public hearings, finds that there is an increasing use of real property within the City of Batavia for the purpose of flagrant violation of the penal and alcohol, beverage control laws as well as the codes of the City of Batavia relating to continued violations of the law.

The City Council finds that this situation seriously interferes with the interest of the public in the areas of quality of neighborhood life and environment; diminution of property values; safety of the public upon the streets and sidewalks; and increasing costs of law enforcement as a result of these illegal activities.

The City Council, therefore, finds it in the public interest to authorize and empower the appropriate city officials to impose sanctions and penalties for such public nuisances as an additional and appropriate method of law enforcement in response to the apparent proliferation of these public nuisances without prejudice to the use of any other procedures and remedies available under any other law.

Making sense of the legalese that follows is an arduous task. But this much we've figured out. This law gives city officials the right to act against "public nuisance" properties. Quaified as "public nuisance" properties are those that violated specific statutes—typically on two, three or four occasions—of either the state penal code, the alcohol beverage control law or city code (dealing with alcoholic beverages and noise).

Importantly, there are no details regarding problem properties that are not "kept up"—where the grass is waist high and the lawn is littered with trash, for example. That is, this law treats only those properties which are drunken and/or noisy.

So what happens to these properties if they are found in violation?

In addition to the enforcement procedures established elsewhere, the City Manager, or his designee, after notice and opportunity for a hearing, shall be authorized to:

A. Order the discontinuance of such activity at the building, structure or place where such public nuisance exists; and/or

B. Order the closing of said building, structure or place to the extent necessary to abate the nuisance, as prescribed below.

For more information, download a copy of the proposed law here, and be sure to check out Part One of this series, which features an interview with City Council President Charlie Mallow.

dennis wight
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Was this first targeting "rowdy" bars and taverns like the old Backhoe Joes instead of the newer problem of "rowdy residences" ??
Tiffany Barber
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Philip - We don't need another law to control houses where people don't mow the law - this is part of the city code "Cutting and removal. It is the duty of any owner, lessee or occupant of any lot or land to cut and remove or cause to be cut and removed all such weeds, grass, plants or other rank, poisonous or harmful vegetation, as hereinabove specified, as often as may be necessary to comply with the provisions of this section, provided that cutting and removing such weeds, grass, plants and vegetation at least once in every four weeks between April 15 and November 15 of a given calendar year, or treatment by chemicals which does retard or prevent growth, shall be deemed to be a compliance with this section. The above rules apply to all property that is within 100 feet of any residential building and anywhere in the parkway of a paved street regardless of the distance from a residential building. [Amended 11-12-1985; 9-28-1987] Here is the section for just general junk in yard "No owner, lessee or occupant, or any agent, servant, representative or employee of any such owner, lessee or occupant having control of any land within the City of Batavia, whether occupied or unoccupied, shall permit or suffer accumulations of any debris upon such land which tends to or might tend to permit the existence thereon of mosquitoes, vermin, such as rats or mice, or present an unsightly appearance. Debris shall include, but shall not be limited to, accumulations of wood, in any form, metal, cloth, any piles of stones not intended for use as accumulated or any accumulations of such materials which alter the topography of the land in its natural state. Any such accumulations shall constitute a public nuisance. " Here are the penalties - "Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, any person violating any provision of this chapter shall be punishable by a fine of not more than $250 or imprisonment for not more than 15 days, or by both such fine and imprisonment." Notice how it is not just up to the landlord and can include the occupant. So the question is who is enforcing this code - because if no-one is - I'd be more than happy to volunteer to do this as I am sure many others would!
Philip Anselmo
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Well done on the research, Tiffany. You beat me to it. Our next question would have to be an extension of what you ask: Who is enforcing the code, how often is it happening and is it solving the problem where there may be repeat offenders?
Philip Anselmo
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Tiffany: Looking through my notes from the most recent City Council meeting (a week ago today), I found this from Council President Charlie Mallow: "All the laws are on the books. They just haven't been acted on."
Tiffany Barber
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Fantastic - why exactly is it that we are not enforcing the law? I do know that some citations have been given out - I know of one for parking a car in a front yard. I agree we need to know who is responsible for enforcing code violations - I assume some kind of code enforcement officer? Is there such a person? Also it seems like the number of people cited for specific code violations would be a matter of public record, can we get this info - perhaps though FOIL? Keep up the good work Philip.
Philip Anselmo
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Tiffany: As to the code enforcement officer point. The city has been without one for some time. I'll have to look into it to get a specific length of time for you. But it was said at the last meeting that the position should soon be filled.
Tiffany Barber
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When you say should soon be filled - do you mean they expect to have someone in the position soon - or that we need to get someone in the position. Also - I just found on the Batavia City website a document titled "Citizen Action Team Initiative - 'Housing Team' report" This report is from 2005 and has several reccomendations for things that should be implemented researched etc. I am curious if any of these suggestions were ever looked into - or if this report was just a bunch of lip-service. I have to say it looks like this team put quite a bit of work into this report - I hope it went somewhere! you can find it here - http://www.batavianewyork.com/cat_minutes/Housing%20Team%20Recommendatio...

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