Enforcement of Unpaid Building Code Fines PDF Print E-mail

The Mandate: Criminal enforcement can be one of the most cost-effective tools that local governments have to address building code and property maintenance violations.  However, cities and villages are currently not permitted to levy unpaid building code and property maintenance fines on municipal property tax bills.  Consequently, the criminal fines imposed by local courts do not serve as a deterrent to the illegal activity, because the individual, limited liability company or corporation that owns the property, often cannot be found to collect the fine.  The methods for collecting default judgments and unpaid court fines can be very cumbersome when dealing with absentee landlords and limited liability entities.

Local governments do have the ability to include certain delinquent charges (e.g., unpaid water and sewer rents) on the local property tax bill, which increases the likelihood that those charges will be paid.  Moreover, there are provisions in state law that allow local governments to recover expenses a municipality incurs when it abates a nuisance condition and incurs an expense in the process (see Public Health Law, Article 13).  In addition, municipalities may, pursuant to their municipal home rule authority, enact a local law providing for abatement expenses to be placed as a lien upon the property (1985 N.Y. Op. Atty. Gen. (Inf.) 85-13, p.78, Opns St Comp, 1982 No. 82-216, Opns St Comp, 1982 No. 82-130).

However, there is no authority or established procedure that would easily allow unpaid criminal court fines relating to delinquent property owners to be levied on the property’s tax bill.  This inability to collect criminal court fines as a levy upon a property’s tax bill frequently makes the criminal enforcement an ineffective method for dealing with delinquent property owners.

The Cost: Enforcing building code, property maintenance, and public nuisance violations can be a difficult and costly process for New York’s local governments.  While criminal enforcement is designed to be a relatively cost-effective method for enforcing compliance with New York’s state and local laws, the inability of municipalities to levy unpaid criminal fines on the tax bills of properties that are the subject of such criminal action, requires local government officials to undertake more expensive and time-consuming methods of enforcing unhealthy and often unsafe property conditions.

In addition to the enforcement cost to municipalities, the inability to hold property-owners accountable often has serious consequences for the surrounding property owners, lowering property values and inhibiting sound growth and development, leading to the proliferation of more nuisance conditions.

The Solution: Permit municipalities to convert unpaid building code, property maintenance and nuisance criminal fines (after adjudication) to liens on real property and to include them on municipal tax bills. This will give municipalities a more viable and effective method of collecting these outstanding fines.