NYCLU report: Nuisance laws unfairly target poor communities of color

Aug 9, 2018

Credit PBS.org

Poor communities of color in Rochester are  harder hit by nuisance laws.

That’s according to a report exploring nuisance laws across the state for the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Nuisance laws often include address things like possession of marijuana, disorderly conduct, littering and noise but author Scout Katovitch says communities of color are already over-policed and this can contribute to instability with housing and even prevent some people who are being abused from calling the police.

“If you take low-level marijuana violations for example. We know that black and white people tend to use marijuana at the same rate but that across the country if you’re black your actually three times more likely to get arrested for marijuana."

And landlords may be pressured to shutter the entire building to solve the problem, meaning all tenants are now homeless:

“Another big issue that we see and Rochester is no exception. One of the consequences of a nuisance designation is closure of the entire building and what that means is that anyone living in the building is basically evicted.”

Jessica Alaimo, a city spokesperson, released a statement saying that City Council passed several measures updatingthe local nuisance law:

"In June, City Council approved a number of changes to the Nuisance Point Abatement Law, eliminating some violations, revising point values and establishing a waiver process. Residents and business owners will also be able to contest nuisance points before a new Nuisance Point Advisory Board. Also, if a location accumulate the maximum number of points, they will have the opportunity to create a plan through the Neighborhood Service Center to correct the applicable issues."

She says Mayor Lovely Warren is commited to fair and uniform enforcement of the nuisance point system.

“I know that Rochester did amend its law recently and tried to provide more process,” said Katovitch. “We don’t think that goes far enough but we’d encourage the city to think about ways that it can change its law or even consider repealing it.”

The report looked at 13 cities across the state and found that in Rochester, “the quarter of the city with the highest concentration of people of color receive five times as many nuisance enforcements as the quarter of the city with the lowest concentration of color.”

Overall, Katovitch says poor residents of color in Rochester and Troy are more likely to have nuisance ordinances enforced against their homes.

“Nuisance ordinances exacerbate existing racial and economic inequality by making housing instability a consequence of law enforcement,” states the report.

Alaimo says city officials will continue to make improvements to address issues of racial inequality.