HOUSTON - A new law sponsored by State Representative Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) is giving much-needed aid to local law enforcement to crack down on nuisance properties around Houston. The nuisance abatement law went into effect this fall and will secure new funds for enforcement personnel to crack down on illegal activities such as gambling, prostitution, illegal drugs, gang activity and health and safety code violations.
“The nuisance abatement law gives the City of Houston the ability to go after offenders who maintain a common nuisance and threaten public safety,” said Bohac. “It is the intent of this legislation to give law enforcement the resources that they need to keep our streets and our community safe, especially with regard to problem apartments and ‘hot sheet motels’.”
Senate Bill 1010, passed during the 78th Regular Legislative Session, directs the City of Houston to create a fund as a separate account in the treasury consisting of money awarded from nuisance abatement actions. In the past, the money from tickets and bonds has simply gone to the general revenue fund. The money will now go to a “lock box” and may be used only for the purpose of ongoing nuisance abatement, including regular and overtime compensation for nuisance abatement or enforcement personnel and hiring additional personnel for nuisance abatement as needed.
Rep. Bohac worked with the city's Forfeiture Abatement Support Team, or F.A.S.T. Unit, to develop the language in the new law. The F.A.S.T. Unit is an interdepartmental approach involving HPD, HFD, the city's Legal Department and the Planning Department's Neighborhood Protection Division to address nuisance violations on property vulnerable to criminal activity. The F.A.S.T. Unit encourages compliance by property owners to correct violations and curtail criminal activity at locations where suspected criminal activity may be occurring. If a property owner fails to comply, they face possible legal action from the city.
“This will be extremely useful to the F.A.S.T. Unit in providing monies for future abatement projects requiring the use of undercover officers in various phases of the operation,” said Sevita Rai, Assistant City Attorney. “In the past, long-term F.A.S.T. projects have been completely dependent upon the availability of extra funds within the club drug grant or officers' willingness to work for compensatory time rather than for pay. The lack of funding for long-term projects has prevented the city from resolving major, ongoing nuisances within larger properties such as apartment complexes and subdivisions.”
The new law also updates outdated public and common nuisance provisions in the Civil Practice and Remedies Code. Before the bill's passage, Texas law contained two statutes that dealt with public or common nuisances. Having two statutes, with sometimes conflicting provisions, made it difficult for local governments to determine which was the appropriate statute governing a particular case. Bohac's law combines and modernizes the two statutes while incorporating provisions for other nuisance issues, making it an omnibus nuisance bill.
“Neighborhood crime is a big concern of the people in my district,” concluded Bohac. “This a positive step towards ridding our community of violators who nurture and enable illegal activities and violent crime. It is my hope that law enforcement personnel will no longer have their hands tied by lack of funding and outdated provisions in the statute.”