Fears that a town law would violate property rights

Town Hall (photo by Dion Ogust)

Sixty to 70 residents told the Town Board to scrap a proposed amendment to the town’s building code because it would infringe on private property rights.

The proposed law would allow the board to determine that a building is unsafe, and order it torn down. It gives the board the authority to order the demolition of an unsafe building, rather than going through lengthy and expensive court proceedings.

Following the public hearing, Supervisor Kelly Myers and Town Board members said they would revisit the law, rewrite it to accommodate some of the comments, and most likely hold another public hearing on a revised version.


Speakers at the board meeting Wednesday, Sept. 5 were unanimous in their agreement that the law infringes on private property rights, and offers an avenue for residents to use the town government to harass neighbors they may not like. In particular, the definitions of such terms as “unsafe,” “abandoned,” and “presents a danger” are not sufficiently specific and could apply to almost any building, opponents said.

But building inspector Alvah Weeks said the law is needed to give him the authority to act against absentee owners or banks that don’t maintain property they have foreclosed on. (While several residents praised Weeks’ fairness, such a law in the hands of a less scrupulous successor could be a nightmare, they claim.)

The law, in addition to allowing the Town Board to order an unsafe or abandoned building demolished at the owner’s expense, includes fines of up to $500 and jail terms of up to 30 days for continuing to occupy or use a building that has been declared unsafe.


Residents fear law is a monster

Specifically, such requirements as locking equipment in buildings, making sure buildings are not unsightly, and keeping equipment inside make farming difficult, said Samantha “Sam” Dederick, a farmer.

“We already have an unsafe buildings law, along with the state uniform fire code,” Dederick told the board. “Are you, on the board, aware that this New York State law does not allow inspections by the building inspector on agricultural property and single or two-family homes? This provision is specifically to prevent an overzealous building inspector from coming onto people’s property to check on whether every shed is locked,” she said, adding that “agricultural buildings are traditionally pole barns, open hay barns, woodsheds, et cetera. These could not be kept locked, as the law requires.”