Package Will Curb Abuses and Limit Application of Nuisance Abatement Law

Legislative Package Reforms How NYPD & Court System Apply Nuisance Abatement Laws

NEW YORK – New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, along with Council Members Vanessa Gibson, Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Ritchie Torres, Karen Koslowitz, Daniel Garodnick, Barry Grodenchik, Rafael Salamanca, Donovan Richards, Stephen Levin and Jumaane Williams today announced the introduction of the Nuisance Abatement Fairness Act (NAFA), a package of legislation to reform New York City’s Nuisance Abatement Law (NAL). Created in 1977, the NAL established a legal framework which permits the City to expeditiously shut down residential and commercial establishments that are deemed to be “nuisances.”

Originally designed to address obscenity and prostitution in Times Square, the law has more recently been targeted at residences in which drug sales are allegedly occurring, or at commercial establishments that allegedly sell alcohol to minors. Unfortunately, there has been uneven enforcement of the laws and some well-documented abuses, and New Yorkers have improperly lost their homes and businesses. The package of 13 bills will be heard by the City Council Public Safety Committee on November 2nd at City Hall, at 10:00 AM  in Council Chambers.

Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said: “For too long the Nuisance Abatement Law has been unevenly applied. This package of legislation will reform these laws to eliminate the most draconian penalties, and limit its application to ensure that innocent people do not lose their homes or businesses, all while still permitting the swift shuttering of illegal houses of prostitution, bodegas that sell K2, and other actual nuisances where appropriate. This City Council has been proud to boldly take on criminal justice reform and this legislative package will continue our efforts.”

“As demonstrated by the Council’s successful efforts to curb the use and distribution of K-2, the nuisance abatement law is a powerful tool that can swiftly put an end to ongoing illegal activities in our communities,” said Public Safety Chair Vanessa Gibson.  “However, it has become clear that the wide and disproportionate usage of this law has negatively impacted law abiding New Yorkers, and New Yorkers of color in particular. The Nuisance Abatement Fairness Act will institute important and necessary guidelines for the NYPD and keep innocent New Yorkers from being unjustly barred from their homes or businesses.  I am proud of the work Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the City Council has done to restore justice to the justice system and I look forward to hearing these bills in my committee on November 2nd.

For years countless New Yorkers have fallen victim to inconsistent enforcement practices and unfair penalties under the existing Nuisance Abatement Law, often costing them their homes or businesses,” said Council Member Mark Levine. “Residents and business owners not involved in criminal activity should never be evicted from their homes without appropriate due process. Passing this much needed package of legislation, including my bill requiring the NYPD to collect data on the law’s application, will significantly reform New York’s Nuisance Abatement Law and serve as a major victory for our criminal justice system.”

“The application of the Nuisance Abatement Law has been abused and doesn’t allow for fair due process because of the uneven enforcement of the law. It is time the City Council reforms this law to crackdown on the abuses that result from its unintended use, and protect New Yorkers from unnecessarily losing their homes and businesses,” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams.

“When the City passed the Nuisance Abatement Law in 1977, it was designed to combat prostitution, peep shows, and general disorder in Times Square. Today, this policy can be harshly applied and create undue hardship for innocent New Yorkers across the five boroughs. This reform package brings the law into the 21st century, and is an important step towards creating a more just New York City,” said Council Member Daniel Garodnick.

“Nuisance Abatement Laws (NAL) are absolutely necessary for the protection of neighborhoods against drugs, prostitution and gambling,” said Council Member Karen Koslowitz.  “They provide an avenue for accelerated relief while the criminal process proceeds in a parallel, yet lengthier path. Like many laws, the NAL is not perfect. This package of reform bills correctly seeks to address the unfair and unjust aspects of the current NAL laws.”

“The nuisance abatement reform package would cleanup some of the more damaging aspects of the NAL that has disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. There is no reason why a landlord or business owner’s rights should be terminated, or property or business automatically shut down, for a nuisance they have no connection to. These bills create a balance between protecting residents’ and business’ rights and getting rid of problematic nuisances in our City,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres of the Bronx.

“Nuisance abatement is a crucial tool for the NYPD in my district to preserve our neighborhood’s quality of life,” said Council Member Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton). “While the NYPD can be too loose with the law in some cases, they can also act too slowly, which can lead to businesses or residences being shut down months after the matter has been resolved. We need to mandate that the NYPD acts quickly and decisively in these instances to ensure that we are not punishing New Yorkers for another’s crime. I’d like to thank Speaker Mark-Viverito and all of my colleagues who have worked to find the right balance of nuisance abatement reform.”

“Our laws reflect our ideals,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “This package of bills realigns our legal system with our commitments to justice and fairness. As was too often the case, Nuisance Abatement Law oversights and abuse led to unjustified loss of homes or shuttering of businesses. I am proud to stand with my Council colleagues in support of this measure furthering community protections.”

“This package of legislation is a great example of how we can modernize our laws to better suit today’s needs and apply them fairly,” said Council Member Corey Johnson. “This legislation will allow for rigorous and fair enforcement of violations while preventing abuses. I thank Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and my colleagues in the Council for taking another bold step in the direction of fairness and justice for all New Yorkers.”

“The current application of the Nuisance Abatement Law has at times negatively impacted New Yorkers, in some cases costing them their homes and businesses. The Nuisance Abatement Fairness Act will help protect residents and business owners from unfairly losing their property,” said Council Member Barry S. Grodenchik.

“These reforms I believe will go far in ensuring we are protecting tenant’s rights while also ensuring strong nuisance abatement laws remain,” said Council Member Rafael Salamanca, Jr. “I’m proud to stand with my colleagues to bring a new Nuisance Abatement Act that works for all New Yorkers here in 2016.”

The Nuisance Abatement Fairness Act consists of 13 piece of legislation which will:

  • Eliminate ex parte orders: The law currently allows judges to order the closure of a home or business based solely on the allegations of the NYPD, without affording the defendant the opportunity to be heard. These orders are disproportionately harsh and unnecessary. The legislation will permit a business or residence to be closed pending the outcome of a case only after defendants are notified and may appear in court.
  • Repeal the Padlock Law: The Padlock Law permits the NYPD to close a residence or business without any judicial order. The NYPD has not used this draconian remedy for more than 15 years, and this bill will permanently abolish it.
  • Narrow drug cases to sale: The law currently defines a nuisance as either the possession or sale of drugs, including marijuana. This legislation will restrict the application of the NAL to only the sale and not the possession of drugs. The bill will also require 4 drug sales instead of 3 to establish a “nuisance.”
  • Address alcohol sales to minors: The law currently requires only 1 incident of an alcohol sale to a minor, even where such a sale was not intentional. This bill would restrict the application of the NAL to repeated, willful, and flagrant cases, and require 4 such incidents to establish a “nuisance.”
  • Require laboratory reports for all drug cases. This bill addresses documented issues of NAL cases based on substances that turn out not to be controlled substances, by requiring the NYPD to submit laboratory results in all drug NAL cases.
  • Address drug sales: Many drug NAL cases rely on “confidential informants” who may not be reliable, and an NAL case could be filed after a search warrant was executed and revealed only evidence of possession and not the sale of drugs. The NAL was not designed to circumvent the warrant system in criminal court, and this bill would require any drug sale nuisance case to have at least one incident personally witnessed by a police officer, eliminating the ability to file NAL cases based solely on information from “confidential informants.”
  • Ensure the timeliness of NAL cases: There is no statute of limitations for many NAL cases, allowing residences and businesses to be shut down for incidents that occurred many months ago and have since been cured. This legislation will establish a 4 month statute of limitations for all NAL cases, and 90 days for drug cases. The legislation will also eliminate unused NAL provisions which are addressed through other enforcement mechanisms, including those that apply to obscenity, building code violations, air pollution, noise control, and zoning violations. The bill will also require NAL orders to be executed within 15 days of being signed by a judge.
  • Prohibit sealed records and require personal service of legal papers: Media reports have indicated that records from sealed criminal cases have been used in NAL applications. This legislation would require the Law Department to check every NAL case to make sure no sealed records are being used. It would also require the personal service of legal papers to ensure defendants are properly notified.
  • Require least restrictive remedy and awareness: Some NAL orders or dispositions are disproportionately harsh, requiring either closure or onerous conditions that are not necessary to solve the problem, and other NAL cases affect the property rights of those who had no knowledge or reason to know about any illicit activities. This legislation will restrict any NAL remedy to only the least restrictive remedy, meaning that a judge could evict a person or shutter a residence only if there were no other means of ceasing the nuisance. This bill would also prohibit the NAL from restricting the rights of any person who was not aware or had no reason to be aware of a nuisance.
  • Prohibit permanent exclusions: Some NAL cases permanently restrict persons from certain property, eliminating any chance of rehabilitation and family reunification. This legislation will establish a time limit for the exclusion of any person from a residence to 1 year, or 3 years in special circumstances.
  • Verify an on-going nuisance: Residences and businesses may be shut down for incidents that occurred many months ago and have since been cured, negating the reason behind the NAL in the first place. This legislation would require the NYPD to verify the ongoing nature of a nuisance before executing any order.
  • Eliminate conflicting proceedings: NAL actions often duplicate similar proceedings in NYCHA, housing court, or pursuant to the Alcoholic Beverage Control laws. This is inefficient and can lead to double-punishment. This legislation would prohibit an NAL case where there is a duplicate NYCHA, Housing Court, Alcoholic Beverage Control, or other duplicate proceeding.
  • Ensure comprehensive reporting: NAL data has historically not been collected. This legislation would require comprehensive reporting on the NYPD’s use of the NAL, including the rate of the use of injunctive relief, the relationship between NAL actions and 311 or 911 calls, the rate of NAL actions by precinct, and the relationship between NAL actions and other legal proceedings. Also, because other agencies and governmental entities can request NAL actions be brought, the bill also requires the Law Department to report on the wider use of the NAL.

“These bills eliminate the City’s ability to bar someone from their home with no notice as well as adding important other protections,”  said Adriene Holder, Attorney in Charge, Civil Practice, The Legal Aid Society. “These are an important first step to restoring due process to low income New Yorkers faced with seizure of their homes.  We applaud the Council for moving forward with these bills.  We hope that in the future the Council will consider eliminating this unconstitutional remedy altogether.”

“The package of legislation that has been introduced in the Council will address many of the problems arising from the Nuisance Abatement Law,” said Edward Josephson, Director of Litigation, Legal Services NYC. “Most importantly, by repealing the provisions allowing ex parte evictions, and requiring that the City verify the continuing existence of the alleged nuisance, the legislation will assure that every tenant will receive her day in court. The legislation will also break new ground in requiring the City to request the least restrictive remedies needed to cure the nuisance, and will limit the exclusion of family members to one year.  This legislation is in line with recent research showing that reintegration of offenders into their families and communities leads to long term reduction in crime while promoting family stability.  The new legislation will not only ameliorate the most punitive aspects of the Public Nuisance Law, but will set a new and more humane standard for the treatment of offenders and their families in similar types of eviction proceedings.  We thank the City Council for addressing this important issue, and look forward to working with the Council on this and other issues of concern to vulnerable low income tenants.”

“The NYPD has flagrantly misused nuisance abatement laws to intimidate immigrants and people of color and evict them from their homes and local businesses,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.  “After advocates and media outlets exposed the scandal, thankfully City Council is addressing the gaping legal holes that enabled the NYPD to continue its abuse.”