Posted by: Patricia Salkin | April 29, 2012

NY Appellate Court Invalidates Ordinances Aimed at Non-Owner Occupied Dwellings for Violating City Law

Plaintiffs include owners of non-owner occupied houses part of the Syracuse University Special Neighborhood District and the association of these owners and they sued defendant city of Syracuse, seeking the court to invalidate two ordinances: Ordinance 20 which contemplates the amount of parking space for one and two family residences and Ordinance 21which imposes parking requirements for “absentee owners.”  Plaintiffs argue that these ordinances are invalid because: the city failed to comply with the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”); they were introduced and adopted on the same day, contrary to the Syracuse City Charter; the ordinances treat owner-occupied homes differently than non-owner occupied, in violation of city law and the city charter; and, finally, that the plaintiff’s due process rights were violated by the adoption of these laws.  Plaintiffs brought this action in the state trial court, where the summary judgment was granted for defendants.  Plaintiffs appealed. 

First, the court examines plaintiff’s contentions under SEQRA.  The court finds that plaintiff’s allegations are meritless and that the defendants complied with the SEQRA procedural requirements.  Second, the court discusses plaintiff’s due process claim.  The court explains that to survive under due process, a law must have a legitimate purpose and there must be a reasonable relationship between the law and that purpose.  There is a presumption of constitutionality, explains the court, and plaintiff must prove that the law is arbitrary or irrational.  Although plaintiffs argue that they need more disclosure, the court finds that they have failed to show that more discovery would help plaintiffs prove their burden.  The court finds that defendants have shown that the law will clearly help serve their purpose of traffic safety and elimination of traffic congestion.  Thus, the court finds that the plaintiffs have failed to prove their due process claim. 

Third, the court considers whether introducing and passing the ordinance on the same day was a violation of the city law and the city charter.  The court explains that, under local law, a common council may not introduce and approve a law on the same day “except by unanimous consent.”  Although the court finds ambiguity in what part requires unanimous consent, it is immaterial.  The court finds there was not unanimous consent by city council members to either pass the laws nor to pass them on the same day.  Thus, by its clear language, the court finds that both ordinances are invalid. 

Finally, the court looks at whether treating owner-occupied homes differently than non-owner occupied homes is consistent with city law and the city charter.  The court finds that both the city laws and the city charter specifically state that all regulations must be “uniform for each class of buildings.”  Here, since different classes of buildings are treated differently, the court finds that the ordinances at issue violate city law.  

Tupper v. City of Syracuse, 2012 WL 975614 (N.Y. A.D. 4 Dep’t 03/23/2012) 

The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.nycourts.gov/courts/ad4/clerk/decisions/2012/03-23-12/PDF/0211.pdf


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