Brockport leaders hear feedback regarding proposed public nuisance legislation

By on May 29, 2017

A discussion regarding public nuisance legislation proposed for the Village of Brockport drew residents, landlords and lawyers to the Village Board’s workshop meeting Monday, May 22.

Members of the public were invited to share their thoughts and opinions about the proposed legislation which, if enacted, will apply to all private properties within the village – residential, commercial and industrial – and which is designed to hold the property owner accountable for certain violations over which the village believes the property owner should have some degree of control.

“It’s about improving the quality of neighborhood life for everyone,” Mayor Margaret Blackman told those in attendance.

According to a village summary of the proposed legislation, violation of one of the specified laws will result in points associated with the violation being assessed.  A property which accumulates 12 or more points within a period of six months or 18 or more points within a period of 12 months would be deemed a public nuisance.

Property owners whose property is deemed a nuisance would then be entitled to a hearing before a three person panel. The village would have to prove the existence of a public nuisance and if the panel rules a public nuisance does exist, it will then determine remedial measures property owners must perform to abate the nuisance.

Many who spoke expressed concerns about the proposal.

Jack Merritt, a student at the College at Brockport and senator-elect to the Brockport Student Government, said the law will directly affect students and could result in evictions or raised rents.  “It would penalize students who have no knowledge of the offenses of other tenants,” he said.  “Students might be afraid to call police if they are afraid they will get these points.” He also expressed dismay that the meeting occurred at a time when most students have returned home for the summer.

Local attorney Keith O’Toole said he felt it is a mistake to single out  college students and landlords for punishment.  He said the law would allow the village to, “lean on landlords to do the dirty work to evict tenants,” and called the law unconstitutional and unfair.

Brockport resident Joseph Thorpe said the proposed law gives the village board too much power. “At this point, you are the judge, jury and executioner,” he said.  “You need to strengthen the judicial part of this.”

Brockport resident and landlord Norm GianCursio warned the law would, “pit neighbor against neighbor … there is a lot of potential for abuse,” he said. GianCursio said the village should make use of the current codes, which he said are working.  “Let the police do their job,” he said. “I know the police can do a good job … hopefully you will reconsider. Let the codes on the book do their jobs.”

Lawyer Michael Burger said he represented the Brockport/Sweden Property Owners Association. He noted there is no innocence defense included in the law and warned it will not stand up to legal challenges. “Punishing somebody who has done nothing wrong is bound to backfire … litigation is almost certain,” Burger said.

Resident Robin Waller said she could understand both sides of the issue, but asked board members to consider the repercussions the law might have in the future, and look into other options. Another resident, Lyle Stirk, said he could be cited under the law if someone decides to publicly urinate on his property.  “If it happens at my house, it’s my points,” he said, and added that Brockport police told him they typically do not inform landlords when police have been called to one of their properties for a complaint.

A resident of Utica Street said he lives in the “combat zone” between student dorms on campus and bars in the business district.  He said the village must do something. “I’m a person who believes government can solve problems,” he said. “We won’t have people buying single family homes in the village if we don’t do something.”

Village attorney Dan Mastrella said people who own property need to understand that, “repeated nuisance conduct and conditions will have consequences.”

Village building inspector/code enforcement officer Dave Miller said the village is working to encourage landlords to take a proactive roll. “We are not asking them to evict tenants,” he said. The proposed nuisance laws are, “a way for the village to take a proactive stance … we can tinker with this as time goes on … this is a living document.”

Trustee Katherine Kristansen owns rental property and said the proposed laws would  help landlords solidify their leases.  She said the village needs to make its expectations known. “The problem houses are ones with landlords who don’t care.  We want the college students here,” Kristansen said. “We have to work together.”

Trustee/Vice Mayor Bill Andrews said the village is facing serious public nuisance problems. “It is our responsibility as a village board to solve those problems through collaboration among stakeholders,” he said. “What we want is compliance, not punishment.”

Andrews noted problem properties are given every opportunity to come into compliance.

Mayor Margay Blackman said the workshop with public input and discussion was, “a good way to go about doing this. We want compliance. It is helpful to hear concerns of residents. We will work our way through this.”

Village attorney Dan Mastrella emphasized the nuisance legislation has not yet been introduced to the village board for consideration.