City Judge Thomas M. DiMillo has upheld the city ordinance that penalizes landlords of tenants who put out their trash or garbage too early; he also fined a prominent property owner $100 for violating the law.
But even though he was convicted, Daniel V. Kane portrayed Tuesday's ruling as a victory.
Kane noted that Steven Niziol, the city's community services aide, has begun calling landlords, warnings them that tenants have violated the rule barring placing such refuse at the curb more than 24 hours before a scheduled pickup.
Kane, former editor of the Lockport Union-Sun and Journal, received no such warning before receiving a Dec. 3 citation for his rental property on Washburn Street.
In a Jan. 17 nonjury trial, Kane argued that he shouldn't be penalized because he didn't put the garbage out.
DiMillo said the section of the City Code in question doesn't specifically say who is liable when the 24-hour rule is violated. "This court has attempted to decipher the legislative intent," DiMillo said.
By parsing the writing in other sections of the City Code, the city building code and other laws, DiMillo concluded that the Common Council meant to penalize the property owner, a point Council President John Lombardi III confirmed later Tuesday.
DiMillo suggested that the Council redraft the law to make it clearer, but Deputy Corporation Counsel Matthew E. Brooks said DiMillo has now established what the law means.
"I don't think the city's going to take any action. Based on the court precedent the judge set, it would be a waste of time," Brooks said.
"What I wanted to show is, (the law) isn't correct," Kane said. "The code enforcement officer has acquiesced and now gives warnings. It's a moral victory."
Kane had earlier vowed not to pay any fine he was given, but he said in court that because DiMillo had worked so hard on his decision, he was reconsidering. DiMillo gave him 60 days to pay the $100.
Niziol credited Kane with inspiring the warnings to landlords the because he sent a letter to the mayor, listing the properties he owns.
Six other landlords then followed suit, and thus Niziol now knows who owns a large proportion of the rental property in Lockport. He said if he sees garbage violations, "I will call them and give them until the end of the day to clean it up. I ran it by the mayor, and he said, 'Do what you have to do.' "
As a result, no apartment landlords have been cited for garbage violations since Kane raised the issue of the law's fairness last month. About 20 such tickets had been issued since last summer, when Niziol was hired.
By contrast, about 35 owner-occupied homes have been cited for breaking the 24-hour trash law. Niziol said he sometimes sends warning letters to homeowners for "very small violations," but big piles of junk bring an immediate summons.
"I think we generated more publicity on the 'clean Lockport' program than they could ever have afforded otherwise, so I think it was a very valuable experience," said Kane, who owns 15 rental properties in the city and said he paid more than $30,000 in property taxes last year.