DA offers help with Saranac Lake drug house

SARANAC LAKE – Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne has offered to work with local officials to enact a law that would target drug houses and other “nuisance” properties.

On Monday, Champagne emailed copies of a “chronic nuisance” law passed by a county in Oregon to Franklin County legislators, village police Chief Bruce Nason and, through the Enterprise, village Mayor Clyde Rabideau. Included in the email was a copy of a Thursday Enterprise story titled “Saranac Lake’s worst drug house,” about a dilapidated apartment building at 155 Broadway that’s a known site of repeated drug dealing in the community and has been cited for 17 state building and property maintenance code violations over the past three years.

In an interview Monday afternoon, the DA said he decided to pass the information along after reading the article.

“If certain elected officials would like any assistance from my office in an area like this, I’d be more than happy to allocate time, resources and my energy and effort to making it happen,” he said.

The law Champagne circulated is from Clackamas County, Ore. It defines a chronic nuisance property as one that has had three or more nuisance activities during a 60-day period or 12 or more nuisance activities during a 12-month period. Nuisance activities could range from more minor offenses like disorderly conduct, public indecency or harassment to more serious crimes such as homicide, rape, robbery or drug-related offenses.

If a property owner has been notified that their property has been deemed a “chronic nuisance,” the owner gets 10 days to request a public hearing and 30 days to submit a plan to remedy the issues. Failure to respond, remedy the problems or propose an abatement plan allows the county to bring legal proceedings against the owner. If the court determines the property to be chronic nuisance, the county will ask the court order the property “closed and secured against all unauthorized access, use and occupancy” for six months to a year and impose fines on the property owner.

Champagne said he proposed a similar law in Malone about 11 years ago, but it was never enacted. Law-enforcement officials were able to get the landlords to address the issue.

“They essentially evicted the people we were pointing out to them were engaged in nuisance activity,” the DA said. “Perhaps that may be what could happen this time, or if someone would like to get this on the books, when you knock on somebody’s door and say, ‘We’re going to look at using this (law),’ then perhaps people change their mindset of who they’re going to allow to rent from them or be in some of these homes or houses.”

Some might argue that evicting drug dealers or shutting down one drug house may just move the problem to another location in the community.

“Are we going to eradicate everything? No, we’re not that naive,” Champagne said. “But can we help have a better community by not having this type of conduct on our Main Street flying in the face of our children? I think we can.”

Nason said he’s been researching similar laws in other communities around New York.

“That is something we’d definitely like to look into,” he said Tuesday. “It’s about getting the property owners involved and saying, ‘This is an issue. We keep going to these locations, and these are the reasons why.’ It’s just another tool or resource to get these properties cleaned up.”

Rabideau said Monday the village would review the law Champagne provided and see if it could be helpful in dealing with 155 Broadway or similar properties in the community.

“It is true that many people consider (155 Broadway) an eyesore and many people consider it a nuisance,” he said. “I will study the law and ask advice of counsel to see if there’s any applicability to this situation. In the meantime, I’d hope the landlord would ante up. If there are outstanding code violations, I would expect they’d be resolved immediately. As far as monitoring the activities of tenants, I’m not so sure how that’s done. That’s why we’d need to study the law.”

Asked directly if he was recommending the village enact a chronic nuisance law, Champagne said he was simply offering to help should the village decide to go in that direction.

“If the community is invested in it, and if the community wants it, I’m there for them,” he said. “On the other hand, if people are like ‘Derek, you just worry about being DA, and we’ll worry about nuisances,’ well then I understand my place.”

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or cknight@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.