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Landlords, village officials discuss proposed public nuisance law

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MASSENA — Mayor James F. Hidy says he wants to use a proposed public nuisance law to give landlords more ammunition to get rid of blight, and nuisance tenants and drug dealers, and some landlords say they welcome the help.

“I totally agree with what you’re trying to do as far as cleanup,” Dennis J. Kemison told the village Board of Trustees on Tuesday.

Mr. Kemison, who said he has met with Mr. Hidy regarding drug issues, said landlords face hurdles in evicting problem tenants, and he hopes the proposed law will give them more authority in dealing with those people.

“As a landlord, we have to follow the law set forth,” including giving tenants 30 days’ notice before evicting them, he said. And, he said, if the 30-day notice is not properly served, the landlord could be dealing with the tenant for another 60 or 90 days.

“I think myself personally we ought to just throw them out,” Mr. Kemison said.

Tom Post suggested landlords should have more authority in getting rid of nuisance tenants if they misrepresent themselves by signing a lease and never occupying the property, instead allowing others to move in.

“You folks have never been in our shoes. We have a 40-page attorney general’s renters rights we have to go by. I’ve been through the court system,” Charles A. Raiti told board members, saying he “gave up” because it was costing him too much time and money to try to evict a tenant.

He said it costs landlords $150 to $200 to hire an attorney to deal with an eviction, while many times the tenant they’re trying to get out of their property will receive a free attorney through St. Lawrence County.

Mr. Raiti said it was sometimes difficult to determine who would be a problem once they moved into one of his rental units. He said he had one person who gave him two months’ rent and the security deposit and turned out to be a drug dealer. “Then I started noticing a problem,” he said.

In that case, he said, “I went in there and pushed the guy out.”

“In this particular situation I could have gone to jail” for violating the tenant’s rights, Mr. Raiti said. “There has to be something for landlords in there, too.”

Mr. Hidy, who had presented the board earlier this month with information on a local law used by the city of Rome, said it was time to put teeth into enforcement. If a “public nuisance” such as the sale of illegal drugs or firearms, gang activity or assaults occurs at a property more than once, the village could issue a court summons under the law for civil action.

He said he had provided Police Chief Timmy J. Currier and the local justices with copies for their review and comments.

If the building’s tenants or owner are found responsible for the continuing problems at the property, they could be fined. If the problems continue, the village could issue a permanent injunction and control the building until the problems stop. Mr. Currier said the law would be used as “a last-case scenario” in dealing with an issue.

Mr. Hidy said the problems revolved around absentee landlords and people from elsewhere who are “renting under false pretenses. They don’t move in, but this element moves in.”

That, in many cases, meant more drugs in the community.

He suggested the problem was compounded by District Attorney Nicole M. Duvé’s failure to take action on cases taken to her.

“We went to battle with the DA. We felt she wasn’t doing her job. I think she’s our worst enemy,” Mr. Hidy said.

As a result, he said, “We drew a line in the sand” to come up with ways to eradicate the problem.

He said landlords needed to be part of the solution.

“You have to be more aware of who you’re renting to. The bottom line is we don’t want the doggoned drugs in this community. You’ve got a part in this, too,” Mr. Hidy said.

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