November 2018 Housing Court Update

Housing Court Update

Since February 2018, Niagara Falls Community Development/Code Enforcement has been tracking outcomes pertaining to code violations in city housing court as a way to measure the effectiveness of the court. On October 15, 2018, the court issued $36,000 in total fines, relative to properties held by 11 defendants that had been on the docket for 10 months or more. The fines resulted from property owners failing to bring their properties into compliance.

On November 24, 2018, the city was prepared to offer a plea to three property owners that have had the same violations on the docket since the beginning of the year, but have not yet remediated their respective code violations. The properties in question are all investment properties, meaning that they are income generating properties for the owner, but not owner occupied. The property owners of the properties in question do not live in the City of Niagara Falls. One defendant does not have any ties to the WNY region.

City building ordinance 1101.02 that went into effect on January 1, 2003 states:

“A person, firm or corporation found to be in violation of the New York State Property Maintenance Code, as adopted in Section 1101.01 of this Chapter, shall be guilty of a violation and is punishable by a fine not more than Two Hundred Fifty and 00/100 Dollars ($250.00) or by imprisonment for not more than fifteen (15) days, or both.  Each day in which any such violation shall continue shall be deemed a separate offense.”

Below is a snapshot of the defendants, the maximum dollar amounts we could fine as of November 24, 2018 based on the above ordinance, and the outcome of housing court on November 24, 2018.

Defendant one: 

·         Owns a total of 7 properties in the City of Niagara Falls

·         3 properties, 11 violations total

·         First scheduled court date: 3/21/18

·         Date of first appearance: 5/16/18

·         Maximum fine: $528,000

·         Outcome from 11/24/2018 court date: Trial requested by defendant will take place on January 16, 2019

Defendant two

·         Owns a total of 21 properties in the City of Niagara Falls

·         3 properties set for pleas/disposition, 13 violations total

·         Date of first appearance: 2/21/18

·         Maximum fine: $897,000

·         Defendant was also scheduled for arraignment on a fourth property that is not compliant.

·         Outcome from 11/24/2018 court date: Trial requested by defendant will take place on December 20, 2018

Defendant three

·         1 property, 3 violations

·         Date of first appearance: 4/18/18

·         Maximum fine: $220,000

·         Outcome from 11/24/2018 court date: The city asked the court to fine the defendant $2500-$3500 as part of a plea; a fraction of the total fines that could be imposed by the ordinance. Despite the city’s request, the judge fined the defendant $250, with no requirement to remediate the properties.

As the remaining two cases go to trial, the city plans to ask the court for fines that are reflective of the longitudinal nature of these cases on the docket. The dollar amount of the fines imposed are at the discretion of the judge.

In addition to these three recurring cases, the court-imposed fines on two additional defendants. The first case has been on the docket since August 2018 with a fine of $8,000 imposed by the court for code violations that remain outstanding with progress made towards remediation. The second case has been on the docket since September 2018 with a fine of $5,000 imposed by the court for code violations that remain outstanding with progress made towards remediation.