Monday, February 8, 2016

Housing, Minority Communities, and Nuisance Law Abuse in NYC

(Photo Credit here)

ProPublica recently came out with a story detailing how NYPD officials are using nuisance law to kick individuals out of their homes, largely based on groundless criminal claims that are ultimately dismissed in court. In at least 74 cases of nuisance eviction that were studied by ProPublica in partnership with The Daily News, residents agreed to warrantless searches of their dwellings (sometimes on an on-going basis) in order to be allowed to return to their homes. More importantly, the vast majority of these nuisance actions are falling on minorities. Over an 18-month study period, 9/10 homes targeted for nuisance abatement were in minority communities. The article notes that ProPublica "identified the race of 215 of the 297 people who were barred from homes in nuisance abatement battles. Only five are white."

This story raises some very interesting legal issues for property law professors in teaching nuisance principles. At the turn of the 20th century, nuisance law began to yield to zoning and land use restrictions, which were viewed as superior methods for regulating competing, adjacent land uses. In fact, in many cases zoning rules can preclude or at least diminish the validity of nuisance claims. For an excellent historical article on the progression of zoning and nuisance law in the U.S., click here

The way nuisance law is being wielded in NY raises a host of policy and legal issues, spanning from fair housing, criminal procedure, constitutional law, and beyond. Here's an excerpt from the ProPublica article:

The nuisance abatement law was created in the 1970’s to combat the sex industry in Times Square. Since then, its use has been vastly expanded, commonly targeting apartments and mom-and-pop bodegas even as the city’s crime rate has reached historic lows. The NYPD files upward of 1,000 such cases a year, nearly half of them against residences. . .

A man was prohibited from living in his family home and separated from his young daughter over gambling allegations that were dismissed in criminal court. A diabetic man said he was forced to sleep on subways and stoops for a month after being served with a nuisance abatement action over low-level drug charges that also never led to a conviction. Meanwhile, his elderly mother was left with no one to care for her. . . 

The NYPD has embraced nuisance abatement actions as part of its controversial “Broken Windows” strategy of aggressively pursuing low-level offenders to prevent more serious ones. . . Sidney Baumgarten, the former city official who commissioned the drafting of the nuisance abatement law in the 1970s, said it is now being abused. He is alarmed by the sheer volume of cases, especially those aimed at households in which no one has been convicted of a crime.

“I think it’s wrong. I think it’s unconstitutional. I think it’s over-reaching,” he said. “They’re giving up their constitutional rights. And why? Because they’re afraid they’re going to be evicted from their home, with their children. There’s a certain amount of compulsion, and threat and coercion, by the very nature of the process they’re using.”

February 8, 2016 in Home and Housing, Land Use, Landlord-Tenant, Nuisance, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Fracking as Nuisance?

Thanks to reader Lee Van Put for pointing me to this article arguing that nuisance law might be used to put a break on gas drilling in the Northeast.  The basic argument that drilling practices that cause harm to neighbors might be a nuisance seems reasonable to me.  It strikes me that this can't be the first time this kind of issue has come up for drilling practices - anyone know of any specific precedents?  The harm/benefit scenario reminds me of Boomer, which would be controlling in New York - damages might be awarded rather than an injunction.

Ben Barros

[Comments are held for approval, so there will be some delay in posting]

December 13, 2010 in Natural Resources, Nuisance | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Grinch, Property, and Nuisance

How Economics [and Property Rights] Saved Christmas, via Forbes.

Ben Barros

[Comments are held for approval, so there will be some delay in posting]

December 9, 2010 in Law & Economics, Nuisance, Property Theory | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bed Bugs -- Ick!

I love the Diane Rehm show, but I just listened to a very disturbing installment regarding bed bugs.  Apparently they are on the rise, particularly in New York City, although several people called in from Cincy, Kansas City, and other larger cities reporting they had problems.  It is also a big issue in college dorms.

A few key points:

1.  They are very difficult to get rid of.

2.  They are very easy to transmit from place to place, including from hotel room to home and from unit to unit in a multi-family development.

3.  They are difficult to detect unless you know what the signs are.

4.  They don't really like mattresses.  They don't like light, so they hide in crevices, clutter, behind pictures, baseboards, etc.

Of course, I think this has all kinds of interesting Property implications.  For example, should states require disclosure of bed bugs along with roof leaks and other latent defects in home sales?  Should landlords be required to disclose bed bugs to tenants?  Should tenants be required to tell their landlords if they have bed bugs in order to prevent transmission to adjoining units? 

I am suddenly very itchy.

Tanya Marsh

[Comments are held for approval and may be delayed]

August 19, 2010 in Landlord-Tenant, Nuisance | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Are cell phones a nuisance? Maybe to the bees.

Colony collapse disorder (in which bees inexplicably leave their hives and never return) seems like it has been pulled from the plotline of a M. Night Shyamalan horror movie.  Given the integral role that bees play in food production, this issue is fairly disturbing. 

But even more disturbing is a recent study from Chandigarh's Punjab University which places the blame squarely on mobile phones.  Read a report in The Daily Telegraph here or watch a bee video on here.  

Ved Prakash Sharma and Neelima Kumar, the authors of the report in the journal Current Science, wrote: "Increase in the usage of electronic gadgets has led to electropollution of the environment.  Honeybee behaviour and biology has been affected by electrosmog since these insects have magnetite in their bodies which helps them in navigation."

"There are reports of sudden disappearance of bee populations from honeybee colonies. The reason is still not clear. We have compared the performance of honeybees in cellphone radiation exposed and unexposed colonies.  A significant decline in colony strength and in the egg laying rate of the queen was observed. The behaviour of exposed foragers was negatively influenced by the exposure, there was neither honey nor pollen in the colony at the end of the experiment."

This is just one study, so obviously the science is still out on the issue.  Laying aside my question of whether this information will impact my planned purchase of an iPhone 4, it seems that this raises interesting questions for first year Property students to struggle with:

Would a farmer suffering from a lack of bees have a nuisance claim against a neighbor who has a cell phone tower on their land?  If the flowers in my back yard are looking a little peaked, would I have a nuisance claim against my neighbor who lounges in the back yard all day talking on their cell phone?

Tanya Marsh

[Comments are held for approval, so there will be some delay in posting]

June 30, 2010 in Nuisance | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Aesthetic Nuisance in the News

You just have to read a news story that begins like this:

They say a man's home is his castle, but does that include the right to turn it into an eyesore?

On a quiet side street south of Daytona Beach, Robert Hodges' corner house is painted randomly with purple, yellow, orange, green and pink. A toilet and rusting bike stand by a tree, old pieces of a wood deck are scattered and a large sand mound is decorated with skis, golf clubs, plastic ducks and Christmas ornaments. Criss-crossing the front yard are several clotheslines featuring boxers, a pair of hot-pink feathery skivvies and colorful extra-large bras.

"Oh, yes, it's beautiful!" declares Hodges, a snowbird retiree from Memphis, Tenn. who prefers the moniker Prince Mongo. "It's absolutely gorgeous."

And it's his own personal protest.

Upset at complaints by neighbors over a wood deck that prompted county officials to cite him for a code violation, he transformed a $300,000 beachside home into a wildly provocative property that stands out as much as he does.

(H/T Daniel Ernst)

Ben Barros

[Comments are held for approval, so there will be some delay in posting]

April 19, 2010 in Land Use, Nuisance | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)