The Connecticut General Assembly
OFFICE OF LEGISLATIVE RESEARCH
February 23, 1995 95-R-0355
FROM: Mary H. Brown, Research Fellow
RE: Use of Nuisance Laws to Close Drug Houses
You asked for a copy of the Ohio nuisance abatement law used to close drug houses, and for information on its successful application. You also asked whether Connecticut's statutes contain a similar law.
Ohio law (see attached) provides that any land or building used to commit a felony is a nuisance, which can be abated under additional statutory provisions. Authorities consider the program a success. Connecticut's statutes provide for the following for property used in the commission of felonies: forfeiture, abatement of nuisances, and tax lien foreclosure (see 1993 OLR report attached).
Section 3719. 10 of the Ohio Revised Code (ORC) provides that a felony violation in or on “premises or real estate” is a nuisance which can be abated under Chapter 3767. This chapter allows for civil actions by law enforcement officials or private citizens to abate a nuisance. The felonious activity which can cause property to be judged a nuisance is related to controlled substance violations enumerated in ORC Chapter 3719, “prescription fraud” and drug abuse offenses by adults or juveniles addressed in Chapter 2925, according to Deputy Attorney General Mark Mastrangelo.
Section 3767. 04 allows authorities to get a temporary injunction to prevent the continuance of the nuisance, and a restraining order to close the structure against any use. Section 3767. 06 allows the court to “direct removal of all personal property used in conducting or maintaining the nuisance . . . . ”
The expenses of the civil action, including court costs and payments to a boarding-up crew, are paid either by the property owner or the local governmental entity where the nuisance existed. Mastrangelo estimated the cost of closing a drug house ranges from $ 500 to $ 2,300, depending among other things on the number of windows and doors boarded up.
Mastrangelo said the attorney general's office is able to close a drug house in one day, from the time of court pleadings to obtain a restraining order to the complete boarding up of the structure's doors and windows from the basement up. On the preceding day, local authorities provide the attorney general's office with the history of drug offenses in the target house.
He said law enforcement authorities must act quickly once the court issues an order because the civil action is public information. In the absence of confidentiality, the authorities must do their work before the offenders creating the nuisance are alerted.
A preliminary injunction hearing is held within 10 days, at which authorities seek an order to keep the structure closed. At a final hearing, the authorities ask the court for a permanent injunction, from which date the drug house remains boarded up for one year. The elapsed time from the original injunction and restraining order to the court's issuance of a permanent injunction is about two months, Mastrangelo said.
In addition to boarding up the structure, authorities post a bright orange sign on it, describing the nuisance and the legal basis for closing the house. The sign also carries a warning against trespassing or removal of the sign.
Mastrangelo reported Operation Crackdown “successful. ” He said boarding up the structure and posting the orange sign made the law enforcement program “very visible” and helpful to the neighbors who have lived with the presence of the drug house. He praised the “disruptive” effect of the program on illegal drug use.
Twenty-three local governmental units have participated in Operation Crackdown. Of the houses closed, approximately one-half have been sold to drug-free families, Mastrangelo reported.
He said the attorney general's office had participated in 162 drug house closings statewide since the program started in 1990. Some cities and counties (e. g. , Cleveland and Wood County (Toledo)), have closed additional drug houses under local health and building safety laws.
He cited the participation of the attorney general's office in small communities like Painesville, the county seat of Lake County, about 35 miles east of Cleveland, and of large cities like Cleveland.
The attorney general's office has closed four drug houses in Painesville in four years. Closing the houses has pushed the drug activity into the street, which makes arrests easier for local police since the dealers are in the open. One closed drug house was demolished after a bank foreclosure. The bank donated the land to Habitat for Humanity which built a house on the property, according to Mastrangelo. Two of the drug houses were in federal low-income housing projects, for which local housing authorities do not have law enforcement powers.
Mastrangelo said Cleveland as a port city suffers from heavy drug traffic entering through the port and the airport from, among other originations, Detroit. Approximately 300 drug houses have been closed in Cleveland under state and local laws.
OLR report 93-R-1513 addresses Connecticut laws dealing with property used in drug activity. One statute allows the state to seek forfeiture of property used in a drug-related crime (CGS § 54-36h). The state is required to provide clear and convincing evidence of drug activity. If the forfeiture is granted, the court sells the property. To demolish the property, the state or a city has to buy the property first, or sell it to a private party who intends to demolish it.
Under Connecticut's nuisance abatement law (CGS § 7-148(c)(7)(E)) applicable to drug-related offenses, a building's condition, not its use, creates the nuisance. If a dilapidated building is declared a nuisance and the building's owner does not repair it as ordered, a local government entity can repair the building or demolish it.