The Central New York Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union raised objections to two laws on tonight’s East Syracuse Board of Trustees agenda. One proposal would turn landlords into de facto prosecutors by forcing them to evict tenants based on allegations of a nuisance. The second would extend a youth curfew to 16- and 17-year-olds and impose unnecessarily punitive fines and jail time.
“Both proposals are constitutionally flawed and unjustifiably burdensome,” said Barrie Gewanter, director of the chapter.
The proposed “Disruptive Conduct Law” would force landlords to act as prosecutors for the Village. They would be expected to move to evict their tenants after receiving copies of three “disruptive conduct” reports from the Village Codes Enforcement Department. The law would require police to file these reports when they respond to a rental location, even though behavior that may be labeled as “disruptive conduct” is not clearly defined, leaving too much discretion in the hands of individual officers.
“Tenants would not get notice or even an opportunity to defend themselves before facing eviction,” Gewanter said. “Landlords already have a means to get rid of tenants who violate their lease through a pattern of criminal behavior. Police can already make arrests for disorderly conduct and disturbing the police. This law is an invitation for selective enforcement and violates the very definition of due process.”
A proposed revision to the local curfew law, extending it to 16- and 17-year-olds, is similarly flawed. The new law would infringe on the long-recognized rights of parents to direct the upbringing of their children as they see fit. There is no exception for children who engage in evening activities with the permission of their parents, and the law would again allow police broad discretion to determine when a violation has occurred. The law would also violate the First Amendment by requiring youth to carry signed and dated permission slips to engage in constitutionally protected activity such as attending a school board meeting. The new law would impose monetary fines on youth and mandate jail time up to 30 days for multiple violations of the curfew.
“City leaders must strive to strike a balance between protecting the public and preserving our fundamental rights,” Gewanter said. “Local governments should strive to improve public safety, but not by infringing on the Constitutional rights of youth or passing judgment on parental decision making.”
Gewanter – who has begun a dialogue with the city attorney and will continue to urge the village mayor and trustees to reconsider the provisions of these two proposals – will deliver copies of a letter that outlines the NYCLU’s concerns at the meeting tonight. Copies of this letter are also available through the chapter office.