Westfield public nuisance options aired

WESTFIELD – Health Director Michael Suckau briefed the Board of Health on its options to secure compliance with public nuisance violations.
Suckau said there are two types of public health nuisance violations, one where people are actively creating a new or adding to an existing health nuisance. The other where the problem is passive, usually related to neglected or abandoned property.
“We’ve asked the Law Department to help us research our options,” Suckau said at the Health Board meeting Tuesday night.
“The Law Department provided us with information about Massachusetts General Law which gives the Board (of Health) authority to cause the nuisance to be removed,” he said. “This pertains to the active non-compliance issue, people with abandoned vehicles in their yards, junk, people engaged in exterior hoarding.”
The Health Department can issue an order to the property owner or resident to remove the nuisance.
“If we don’t get compliance, we have the option of filing a criminal complaint in the Housing Court,” he said. “This is an extreme case mechanism, but we need to get done what we need to get done.”
The resident or property owner is summonsed into Housing Court to present information.
“The court hears both sides and will usually continue the hearing, to give the resident or property owner time to resolve the complaint,” Suckau said. “If they are still in non-compliance at the next session, the court can continue the case if there are mitigating circumstances or set a date for the work to be done.”
“If the person doesn’t show up for the hearings, the city can ask the court for permission to go onto the property and clean it up, then put a lien on the property to recoup the cost of doing the work,” Suckau said.
“The court basically takes over the enforcement order, so there are other consequences for noncompliance,” Suckau said. “The court can issue an arrest warrant for failing to show up or it could impose fines which may accrue daily until the nuisance is removed.”
The Health and Law departments are still considering the most expedient means to address nuisances related to abandoned and neglected properties.
“That’s a whole other issue in legal terms, so the Law Department is still researching how best to address that issue,” Suchau said.

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