To tackle drug crime problem, Massena drafts nuisance law

Massena, NY. Photo: Gary Stevens CC some rights reserved

I just can’t stop writing about Massena, or more specifically about how the village is trying to deal with what appears to be a burgeoning drug crime problem.

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the village’s planned acquisition of an unmarked Humvee for crimefighting and prevention purposes. Many commenters on this blog were wary of such efforts. Today, WWNY-TV is reporting a quieter sort of effort to fight crime in Massena (although, some might argue, one of which people may be equally wary): Village Mayor Jim Hidy is putting the idea forward that Massena should have a public nuisance law, “giving landlords a mechanism to evict problem tenants or alleged drug dealers.” Hidy told WWNY that the village would have the power to take control of properties in which more than two “infractions” had occurred:

If there’s more than two infractions – two or more infractions – that we have to respond to at one of these residences, whether they’re residences that are rented units or are owned by individuals, this law will empower the community to take those properties and hold the owners accountable.

Under the law, people who rent under false pretenses (as well as property owners) could be held accountable for recurring problems.

Village police chief Timmy Currier is also involved in the drafting of the law, and says his main goals are to drive drug dealers (who are thought to be using local rental properties as sites for drug activity) out of the community; and to develop intelligence on those who remain, so they can build court cases and get convictions against them.

Now, this law’s still in the process of being drafted (village officials will be meeting with their attorney on Friday to work on it) so we can’t say for sure exactly what’s going to be in it. But here’s why I said before that people might be wary of such a law: If not written and enforced carefully, categories like “problem tenant” and “alleged drug dealer” are both vague and fuzzy. If someone’s an alleged drug dealer, does that mean they can be evicted from their home without a conviction? Will this law enable landlords to evict tenants they simply don’t care for, or hold landlords responsible for activities they can’t be reasonably expected to control?

I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for the law when that language does become available, and will pass it along to you.

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27 Comments on “To tackle drug crime problem, Massena drafts nuisance law”

  1. Crime and Justice says:

    Subtitle: To tackle white collar crime problem. America does nothing.

  2. tootightmike says:

    I wonder how something like this would work in a college town like Potsdam. Is an overly loud party at 3:30am a nuisance?
    Personally, I’m in favor of a curfew from 3:am to 6:am, and some mechanism for reporting disturbances to the out of town landlord. I’ve also suggested that the code enforcement office be notified every time there’s a police call to a rental address: Some properties might assemble quite a dossier, and it would be handy the next time the slumlord wants to acquire a permit.

  3. The Original Larry says:

    Bad idea! What constitutes a nuisance? Loud parties? Loud music? Junk in the yard? Once you open that door there’s no telling where it will stop.

  4. mervel says:

    I think it is a great idea, a law a that indeed should be expanded to college towns. If you want to rent to drug addicts, criminals and rapists, you as a landlord should have to be accountable for what is happening on your property. Really if you know that the people who are living in your property are criminals due to the numerous police visits to your property you are part of the criminal activity.

  5. mervel says:

    The North Country is FULL of slum lords, its time they start being held accountable.

  6. Gary says:

    Sounds like the drug problem is being caused by “non-violent” offenders. We can’t incarcerate these people. We need to move them from Massena to Malone to Tupper Lake to……….

  7. @tourpro says:

    This could easily be solved with comprehensive background-checks and a long waiting-period before ….

  8. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    I’m with Larry in this one. A bad idea and yet another overly zealous criminal justice reaction to a public health problem.

  9. The Original Larry says:

    Why do people always think that MORE law is the answer to everything? If criminal activity is taking place, enforce the existing laws and arrest and prosecute the criminals. I don’t know why old-fashioned policing can’t control a community. Parking a war vehicle in the neighborhood and “developing intelligence” on people considered to be”nuisances” is a terrible idea and will not work. Cops walking a beat in a neighborhood might be old school, but I think it would be a good start.

  10. Walker says:

    Gary’s right on this. Seems to me that the main problem with this approach is that it is trying to drive the bad guys out of town– that will just make them Somebody Else’s Problem.

  11. The Original Larry says:

    From the Daily Courier-Observer:

    http://www.mpcourier.com/article/20130412/OGD/704129820

    I don’t understand how any of these people could see the light of day anytime soon. In fact, how Patrick Lloyd was let loose in the community beggars the imagination. This isn’t drugs as a public health problem; it’s crime business and ought to be dealt with as such. There’s more than enough existing law to keep these clowns “busy” for quite some time, if only the authorities would enforce it. By the way, am I surprised that several of these miscreants had guns, despite all the existing, new and proposed firearms regulations? No.

  12. stillin says:

    Our town used to be a Mayberry town of the 50′s…and it was actually fun to live here, and very pretty. Now, with the taxes we pay and we get NOTHING, no colleges are here, we never get one, with the pcb industrial plant residue that is here FOREVER in our soil, air and water, it will never go away it can’t, and the low life’s moving in, really, what incentive is there for anybody to want to stay here? It’s an embarrassment to the long time residents and sadly I see an exodus for anybody with a desire for a nice life.

  13. Paul says:

    This is a law that could easily be abused if you had the wrong town officials. Seizing your property because you have what are two pretty minor infractions? Mervel, you really think this is a great idea? I don’t know. Seems a bit drastic to me. If there are real crimes being committed on a property the police should be able to deal with the criminals involved and get rid of them under the laws we already have.

    If the Chief knows that this kind of activity is going on get out of the hummer and have an undercover guy go in there and put the bad guys in jail. Stop skating around the problem with these other solutions that at best are just going to drive them across town or to the town next door.

  14. mervel says:

    I didn’t read the details, yes that seems drastic, in fact I would be against seizing property at all as any sort of penalty. However I have lived around drug and party houses. They have the police there every weekend and more, they try to stop the drug dealing but it is tough and even when there is continual arrests, that the landlord is well aware of, there are no consequences to the owners of these homes, which are indeed a cancer on the community. The landlords in these situations knowingly rent to criminals or just turn a blind eye to what is going on and refuse to evict them, they don’t maintain the property, etc. So in these extreme cases I would still be in favor of relatively stiff fines for owning a property that has a large number of arrests and police visits.

  15. The Original Larry says:

    “The landlords in these situations knowingly rent to criminals”

    Can you imagine the response if a landlord refused to rent to someone who fit a particular “profile”? The laws that protect people from housing discrimination often put landlords in a difficult position. Just how do you propose they go about identifying and discouraging the criminal element?

  16. Marlo Stanfield says:

    Seizing someone’s property seems a little drastic, and probably unconstitutional.

    In Troy, they adopted a point system a few years ago, where a drug arrest, a gun arrest, a prostitution arrest, garbage problems, a code violation, etc., etc., each is a certain number of points against the property. You get too many points in an 18 month or a two year period, you can’t renew your rental permit. There’s an appeal process for landlords who think they’ve been hit unfairly.

    I don’t know enough about how it’s worked in Troy to know if its a good idea or if its helped, but it seems on the face of it to be the right idea. Since the points accumulate over a certain period, you can see what are really problem properties and what aren’t, so one loud party or one bad tenant selling drugs won’t get the landlord to lose their rights. And they have time to do something about it, too, kick out who they need to.

  17. mervel says:

    OL I agree it is not easy particularly when you are in the market of renting run down property that is over priced on the rent.

    However I think when you have numerous arrests, numerous visits by the police, and numerous complaints by the neighbors about one particular property, the landlord should become involved and be part of the solution. Being confrontation with landlords is probably not the way to go, but I think if police recognize a property as being a drug house or a continual problem for them they should involve the landlord in helping them solve the problem. That may mean eviction. You can write in your lease any number of restrictions leading to eviction, including continual noise complaints from the police, criminal activity etc.

    I certainly don’t think confiscation is the correct way to go, however a series of fines which increase based on something like the Troy system mentioned above may work.

    As far as discouraging criminal activity there is something called a rental application, you can list things like have you ever been convicted of a crime on that application, this is perfectly legal, you can ask for references and so forth, its not hard to weed out problems if you really want to.

  18. mervel says:

    Public shaming is also an effective deterrent. List the names of the landlords of criminal filled property in the paper every time an arrest is made at the property, most landlords don’t want to be known in this way particularly if they are local. Of course many landlords in the north country live out of state, so this won’t always work.

  19. The Original Larry says:

    Landlord – tenant law is sometimes counter-intuitive. For example, you can ask (as long as you ask all applicants) if a prospective tenant has any criminal convictions but not if they have ever been arrested. You can deny renting to a smoker or pet owner but not someone with a history of alcohol or drug addiction. The point is, putting the burden on landlords won’t work. We need vigorous enforcement of existing laws, not surprise and indignation when repeat offenders repeat their offenses.

  20. The Original Larry says:

    On a related note, the circus formerly known as Essex County recently took delivery of their very own HumVee for the Sheriffs Dept. Shame on the voters for continuing to return the same clown crew to office. There doesn’t seem to be any opportunity for wasteful spending that they won’t take advantage of and now their good sense seems to have deserted them as well.

  21. Walker says:

    “For example, you can ask (as long as you ask all applicants) if a prospective tenant has any criminal convictions but not if they have ever been arrested.”

    Nothing counter-intuitive about it, Larry. It’s called innocent until proven guilty. An arrest, in and of itself, doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. A conviction does (though the recent run of DNA exonerations put some doubt even there).

  22. mervel says:

    The fact is though you can rank your applications, you can use credit history, references, income, job references as you said you can ask about convictions, although it is doubtful you will get the truth on those answers anyway from this population, but you can do quite a bit to not rent to criminals. But like you said you can’t be sure and this is just normal stuff most landlords already do. I think the issue comes when you have one house in a community become a known place of criminal activity. As a landlord and as a neighbor you don’t want the police there every other night, you don’t want noise complaints continually and so forth. In those cases I think the landlord should be involved.

    However; I do agree Larry this whole thing should not be put on landlords, I totally agree. The thing is landlords must be part of the solution that is what I am saying. Most landlords are good, but there is a small segment that are bad community members and bad neighbors and I think they should be held accountable.

  23. mervel says:

    Landlords have some responsibility for what is happening in their property.

  24. Paul says:

    You could also handle some of this by working through contracts. We rent out one property that we own. There are terms in the contract that allow me to throw out tenants for one documented complaint (or even if they smoke on the property). If the tenants don’t like the rule than they are free not to sign the contract and go somewhere else. The town could require rental units to have required contracts that just protect the land owner anyway. Even a slum lord doesn’t want the cops bugging him every night when there is a serious problem with tenants. Are the police really doing their job here or are they just avoiding the issue like I described above?

  25. Marlo Stanfield says:

    You know how many of the landlords of these problem properties live in Massena? I’ve often found that landlords who live a ways away and whose buildings just represent checks every month are usually a whole lot less likely to care what goes on than ones who are there on any regular basis.

  26. mervel says:

    I agree Marlo.

  27. mervel says:

    But the longer term issue will not be solved by these sorts of laws. It may help the particular neighborhood, but the fact is the real problem is the number of people who have no work and no hope who are living in our communities. We have a true multi generational poverty issue in the North Country.

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