The Town of Oyster Bay has expanded its powers to board up houses under an amended public nuisance law.
The town’s old law required that a property be the site of at least two arrests or violations of certain laws in a 12-month period in order for the town to declare it a nuisance. The amended law adopted last month sets that standard at two "incidents."
"We don't always have arrests with this type of behavior," Charles McQuair, a part-time town attorney, said during an Oct. 6 hearing on the law that was adopted on Oct. 20. "So what we did was we added the word ‘incident’ as part of the predicate offense section, which will allow the town, after two incidents, to be able to enforce the public nuisance statute."
McQuair said the town had been "powerless" to take actions under the old law in recent incidents, including properties rented out through Airbnb and used for parties, residential shootings and squatters living in "zombie houses" — properties whose owners have abandoned the properties and failed to maintain them.
The public nuisance law addresses "acts or continuing acts that endanger, threaten public safety, [or] create quality of life issues for communities and neighbors," McQuair said at the hearing.
Town officials did not respond to requests to define the meaning of the word "incident" in the context of the amended law. Some of the actions that could lead to a property being declared a public nuisance include illegal drug offenses, the unlawful sale or consumption of alcohol, and having a search warrant executed on the property.
Councilman Louis Imbroto said during the hearing that the amendments would allow the town to shut down drug dealing and prostitution at properties based on "incidents rather than convictions, so that we don't need a formal criminal conviction in order to enforce our ordinance against public nuisance."
The amended law also does away with requiring the town to notify property owners within 30 days of an arrest that the public nuisance law could be enforced against their property. The amended law still requires notification, but without a time limit.
"We've eliminated the 30-day requirement because the 30-day requirement acted as like a quasi statute of limitations for us," McQuair said. "We don't always get prompt notice from the police department, although they're very cooperative and they work with us."
After the second incident, the law says, the town can go to court to seek to remove occupants from the premises and to prevent occupancy for up to three years. The town board could then vote to board up the property for one year.
The law won’t go into effect until it has been certified by the New York State Department of State. That certification is pending, town spokesman Brian Nevin said in an email.
The town already has laws that allow it to board up dangerous structures such as zombie homes and homes damaged by fire or weather.
Nuisance incidents under amended law
illegal drug offenses
unlawful sale or consumption of alcohol
illegal weapons discharge
practicing a profession without a required license
having a search warrant executed on the property
certain seizures of evidence
Source: Town of Oyster Bay