OSWEGO — A law aimed at reducing neighborhood disturbances by targeting consistently problematic properties is slated to go into effect in the Port City, allowing City Hall to issue fines, revoke rental permits and ultimately shutter properties that require frequent visits from police and code enforcement.
The so-called Nuisance Abatement Law replaces what officials called an outdated and ineffective system, and provides law and code enforcement with another avenue to address problem properties. The Oswego Common Council unanimously approved the legislation this week after deliberations and a public hearing on Monday.
Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow, who proposed the legislation in June, said the nuisance abatement policies would allow code enforcement and the Oswego Police Department to address homes that require regular police response but “fall into a gray area” under previous city law that neither department can properly address.
Such disruptive properties diminish the value of nearby owner-occupied properties, Barlow said, and negatively impact the quality of life of other neighborhood residents.
“This may be one of the final tools that our code enforcement program needs,” Barlow said of the law. “It really links up our code enforcement department with the Oswego Police Department to track these properties that are constantly causing a disruption and being a nuisance in the community.”
The Oswego Police Department (OPD) and the city Code Enforcement Office commit time and effort to responding and reacting to those disruptions, Barlow said, but the remedies at their disposal are often time consuming and don’t always produce the desired results.
“We’re passing this law to address those properties as they tend to fall outside of code enforcement’s ability to fully address, but also create a situation where it is hard for the police department to constantly monitor and respond to the same properties over and over,” Barlow previously told The Palladium-Times.
Properties in which two criminal convictions in a 12-month period, or numerous police responses over a three-month span, occur would be brought before a committee, which would include two community members, chief of police, city attorney and code enforcement director. Upon review of police reports, code enforcement documentation and testimony from tenants and/or landlords, the committee would decide whether or not to take action.
Committee members can revoke rental permits, issue fines, shutter the structure for up to a year, or take other or no action. Barlow said the legislation purposely provided the committee with discretion to consider a variety of factors, including whether or not certain occupants are victims of domestic violence.
Under the most egregious offenses, the law would allow fines of up to $1,000 per day if nuisances continue after the city provides notice to the property owners and tenants.
Council President Robert Corradino, R-7th Ward, said the nuisance abatement legislation “goes hand-in-hand” with other city code enforcement efforts in recent years. Corradino said the city code enforcement and police department “have been stymied in many ways” when trying to address certain neighborhood issues.
“This is another tool to help our codes and our police department address residents in our neighborhoods who are not behaving,” Corradino said. “With this revised nuisance abatement code, we’ll be able to take these (police and code enforcement) incidents and put them together to paint a clearer picture of what we’re dealing with. It also gives us a path to address it.”
Council Vice President Kevin Hill, R-3rd Ward, called the legislation “the missing piece” of the city’s code enforcement strategy, saying despite progress in recent years there are still properties that continue to detrimentally impact the quality of life for entire neighborhoods. Hill said the law would effectively link OPD with code enforcement and provide reasonable consequences for properties that consistently violate city code or garner repeated police responses.
Hill noted a particular multi-family rental in the city received more than 35 police responses last year, not including any potential code violations.
“This is completely unacceptable and no city resident should have their quality of life held hostage by a consistently nuisance property,” Hill said. “These issues are often compounded by the fact many of these disruptive rental properties are owned by out-of-town landlords with absolutely no stake in our community.”
Though unanimously approved by the council, the legislation has at least one detractor.
CNY Fair Housing Executive Director Sally Santangelo submitted the only comments on the city’s legislation, expressing “strong opposition” to the measures, which she said could “disproportionately impact victims of domestic violence” and deter the victims from contacting law enforcement and emergency officials when needed.
CNY Fair Housing, which says its mission is to eliminate housing discrimination, in recent years spearheaded a lawsuit on behalf of tenants against Oswego landlord Douglas Waterbury. Santangelo said victims of domestic violence face increased risk of having their properties deemed a nuisance or being evicted by landlords seeking to avoid having their rental permits revoked.
“These evictions compound the elevated risk of homelessness already faced by survivors of domestic violence,” Santangelo said. “The threat of nuisance ordinance enforcement often prompts domestic violence survivors to endure abuse rather than call the police. Victims will suffer in silence rather than face eviction, potentially leading to dramatic consequences.”
In response to Santangelo’s criticism, Barlow said the tenants and property owners are entitled to a hearing, and a committee comprised of code enforcement, police and community members would ultimately be able to take domestic violence and other issues into consideration when handing down any penalties.
City Attorney Kevin Caraccioli said the intent of the legislation is in no way to penalize victims of domestic violence for contacting law enforcement.
“This is about enforcement of properties that have, for far too long, been a drag on our communities and our neighborhoods,” he said.
The council also approved a measure regulating “for rent” signs in the city, banning the signage without a permit and placing limits on the size and number of signs on a property. Councilors also stipulated that in order to receive a permit for the signage, property owners must have a valid rental permit.
“For rent” sign regulations came from an initial Barlow proposal to place an outright ban on the traditional store-bought black and red, or black and orange, signs in residential neighborhoods. Councilors and the mayor reached a compromise, however, and put the above restrictions in place.
Both the Nuisance Abatement Law and the ‘for rent’ sign legislation will become effective immediately upon filing with the state.