LOCKPORT – The Lockport Police Department was given the authority last week to begin executing eviction warrants, but the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office said the move violated state law.
For decades, sheriff’s deputies have been handling all evictions in the county outside Niagara Falls, along with evictions at Niagara Falls Housing Authority sites, Chief Deputy Thomas C. Beatty said.
He questioned the legality of any eviction not done by deputies.
But the Common Council on Wednesday received Mayor Michael W. Tucker’s appointment of Police Chief Lawrence M. Eggert as city marshal. Niagara Falls has such a person, but it’s a title that’s been dormant for decades in Lockport.
Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said the City Charter allows the city marshal or his designees to handle evictions.
The city now can start collecting fees from landlords who want people with badges and guns to give their deadbeat tenants the boot.
Tucker said Lockport will charge the same amount the Sheriff’s Office has been collecting: $105 for each person named in the eviction warrant.
Beatty said the Sheriff’s Office evicted 126 people in the City of Lockport in 2012, collecting $16,584.50 in revenue, including mileage.
“It won’t make their budget and it won’t break our budget,” Beatty said.
Sgt. Cory Diez of the Sheriff’s Office Civil Division said each eviction requires two trips: one to give three days’ notice of eviction and another to actually remove the residents and change the locks.
Beatty said the countywide eviction total last year was 543 people on 443 warrants, with fees of $59,509.
Beatty said the city isn’t allowed to take over evictions, though.
Sheriff James R. Voutour sent a letter Dec. 28 to City Housing Court Judge Thomas M. DiMillo, pointing to a provision in the state’s Uniform City Court Act.
It says any city that didn’t have a city marshal to carry out evictions as of June 30, 1988, is barred from doing so thereafter.
“If you weren’t doing it then, you can’t do it now,” Beatty said.
“They should check our Charter before issuing any such blanket statements,” he said. “Our Charter predates that law.”
Beatty said the Sheriff’s Office relies on the opinion of attorneys for the State Sheriffs’ Association.
“I don’t see us taking enforcement action. For us to physically stop Lockport, we’re not going to do that,” Beatty said. “The action’s going to commence the first time somebody’s unlawfully evicted.”