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Village officials tell Massena property owner: Your tenants needs to get out of Dodge (Street)

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MASSENA - A former Massena couple now living in Ohio have been warned they could face penalties of up to $1,000 a day if they don’t take steps to alleviate a public nuisance at their rental property at 10 Dodge St.

Village officials sent Frederick and Nancy Morin, now living in Defiance, Ohio, a certified letter late last month warning them that the Dodge Street property had been deemed a public nuisance as a result of their tenant’s behavior and the property was in violation of the Massena village code.

“The village of Massena Police Department has responded to countless incidents at the property, including criminal complaints, drug overdoses, domestic disputes, animal cruelty and the like. It is well known locally that illegal drug use regularly occurs at your property,” the letter signed by village attorney Matthew H. McArdle said.

The Morins were warned in the letter they needed to take immediate steps to change that situation or the village would move forward with legal action against the couple, including the commencement of a civil action under the village’s recently enacted nuisance law.

The potential penalties for violating the nuisance law component of the village code could range from a penalty of $1,000 per day for each day they allow the public nuisance to exist at their property, to a court order directing the closure of the building until the nuisances are no longer an issue, Mr. McArdle pointed out.

It marks the first time village officials have utilized the provisions of a nuisance law added to the code in June as law enforcement officials were dealing with at least two groups from outside the area reportedly moving large quantities of heroin in the community.

Village officials said they adopted the public nuisance law to help address crime, illegal drug use and sale and blighted properties in the community.

The nuisance law was modeled after legislation that had been enacted in the city of Rome when State Senator Joseph Griffo was serving as that municipality’s mayor.

Massena Village Police Chief Timmy J. Currier said his officers have responded to numerous complaints at the 10 Dodge St. property.

“We have been there on a number of occasions over the past several years for noise complaints, nuisance complaints, other alleged illegal activity. It’s been the same tenants over the last couple of years,” he said.

Mr. Currier said earlier this week village officials were optimistic they may be able to resolve the issues at 10 Dodge St. without needing to formally move through the legal process detailed in the village code.

“We’re pleased to report (the owner) is taking steps to remediate the problem. We are working with her to assist her,” he added.

There appeared to have been reason for his optimism. Massena Town Justice Gerald P. Sharlow signed a summary judgment after being presented with an eviction warrant from an agent representing the property owners. Christine Dumas, who is Mr. Morin’s sister, told the court that the tenant, Elizabeth Mousaw-Clarke, owed $9,262 in back rent.

Ms. Dumas told the court she had served Ms. Mousaw-Clarke with an eviction notice on March 1, directing her to vacate the property by April 1. She said he had been telling the tenant since January she needed to start paying her rent but hadn’t started the eviction proceedings earlier because the tenant’s granddaughter was living at the Dodge Street, and she didn’t want the child to be homeless during the winter months.

“I do not want to give her any more time,” she said.

The property agent also told the court the county’s Department of Social Services had notified her earlier this winter that it would no longer be paying any part of the rent on the property, effective March 1.

Mr. Sharlow told Ms. Mousaw-Clarke he was signing the judgment directing her to move out of 10 Dodge St. based on her failure to pay her rent.

“Unrelated to that, the court is also aware of issues at 10 Dodge St., and they are not good issues,” he said.

The next step in the process calls for the property owners or their agent to provide a copy of the court ruling to the St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department Civil Division. They will then serve the tenants with a 72-hour notice to vacate the property.

Mayor James F. Hidy said 10 Dodge St. is not the only nuisance property on the radar of village officials.

“This is one of many properties. We’re beginning to crack down on areas where there is a drug-related activity,” he noted.

Mr. Hidy said the closure of the General Motors plant and the downsizing of Alcoa’s employment numbers have resulted in a number of owner-occupied, one-family residences being converted into multi-family dwellings, often times with owners now living outside the area.

“The number one priority of our administration is public health and safety, particularly in areas where children are prevalent,” Mr. Hidy said.

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