Editor's Note: This story was originally published by our partner publication, The Ithaca Voice.
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ITHACA, N.Y. – The village of Groton has become the site of an ongoing social movement – and now legal battle – involving the townspeople, the local government and one particular landlord, Mr. Norfe J. Pirro.
Wondering what it takes for one man to become so notorious in a small upstate village that there's even an entire blog dedicated to bashing him?
We're here to explain. Read on to learn who Norfe J. Pirro is, why the village and some of its citizens have a problem with him and what he has to say in his own defense.
1 - Who is Norfe J. Pirro and why are some people in the village angry with him?
Norfe J. Pirro is a landlord who manages Heritage Homestead Properties. Pirro owns four rental properties in Groton, as well as a number of properties in other localities, including Ithaca, Lansing, Elmira and Dryden.
Pirro's properties in Groton have come to be seen as hubs of the village's increasing drug activity, crime and dilapidation.
In September, Groton citizen Christine Brown Personius organized a Facebook group to "take back the community." The group quickly gained steam, leading to a meeting with the village's Board of Trustees. Over 100 people attended that meeting, demanding that the board take action. Requests included taking specific action against Pirro, as well as increasing police presence in the village.
“People are afraid to be on Main Street,” said Personius during the meeting. "We need to be reassured that our village police officers will continue to be diligent in protecting the community from drugs, pedophiles and other criminal activity.”
2 - What is Groton's nuisance law, and how does it apply in this case?
In April of 2014, village trustees enacted a property and building nuisance law to address public concerns over various rental properties whose tenants were “engaging in conduct which created public nuisances... which interfere with the interest of the public in the quality of life and total community environment.”
According to the law, a property can be labeled a "public nuisance" if it accumulates twelve or more "nuisance points" in six month or eighteen or more in a year. Some examples of offenses and their point values:
- 2 points: Loitering, "permitting a premises to become disorderly," noise and garbage violations
- 4 points: Disorderly conduct, "general disturbances at a particular location", any violation of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law
- 6 points: Controlled substance offenses, possession of stolen property, welfare or food stamp fraud
- 10 points: Prostitution, firearms or other weapons, unlawfully dealing with a child
The law gives the village the authority to take civil action against property owners who repeatedly violate the ordinance. According to court documents, Pirro's properties have accrued over 100 combined nuisance points since May of 2014.
3 - What is the case against Pirro?
On September 18, the village filed a complaint against Pirro, asking the court to enact penalties and a temporary closing order on Pirro's properties.
“The ongoing and continuing nuisance violations at defendants’ rental properties have adversely affected the Village of Groton and its residents,” the complaint reads. “These adverse consequences include numerous police visits for these properties, criminal conduct taking place at and near the properties to include… drug sales, weapons possession, theft, assault, damage to property and disorderly conduct which disturbs a small, rural and residential community.”
According to court documents, Pirro's properties incurred the following nuisance penalties:
1 - Property at 132 Church St. accrued 56 points in 10 incidents between May and August of 2014
2- Property at 208 E. Cortland St. accrued 46 points in 12 incidents between May and September of 2014
3 - Property at 184 Main St. accrued 28 points as of November 14th, 2015
Nuisance violations cited in the documents include a large number of disorderly conduct and general disturbances, often involving intoxicated individuals yelling, arguing or fighting. A few cases involved hospitalizations or arrests.
4 - What is Pirro's take on the claims against him?
Pirro has been unrepentant and outspoken since the controversy began, often engaging in verbal sparring with members of the Groton Community Facebook group. He claims that he has never initiated any of the antagonistic exchanges, and maintains the right to "defend his honor" from the many attacks against him.
Posting to the Facebook group that preceded the conflict, Pirro wrote: “This site was created to bash me. Never once did anyone try to reason with me. They lashed out I lashed back. Groton wants to consider me the enemy. Trust me I am not a person you want on your bad side.”
He also maintained that his properites were, "not dilipidated by any means... these properties are up to code."
5 - What is Pirro's legal defense?
Pirro has filed a counterclaim, saying that the village is overstepping its authority and is treating him unfairly. Furthermore, Pirro is arguing that the nuisance law itself is “is void, unconstitutional and unenforceable and otherwise in excess of respondents’ jurisdiction” according to a preliminary statement from Pirro’s attorney.
The statement argues three points:
1- That only the courts, not the mayor, should have the right to adjudicate nuisance complaints.
2- That the village does not give property owners enough time or opportunity to challenge the claim.
3- That the law is unfair to the tenants themselves, as minor seemingly infractions can lead to eviction.
An affidavit provided by Pirro details a number of examples of situations he felt that a tenant had done nothing illegal but he was forced to take action. One example involved a domestic violence complaint from one of his tenants. Pirro said that, according to the letter of the nuisance law, the only step he could take to "abate the nuisance" was to evict the tenant. He was assessed four nuisance points for the incident, which he found "shocking."
In the affidavit, Pirro also expressed frustration that he was "being pressured from two different directions." He says that while the village was claiming he wasn't doing enough, the presiding town justice told him that he was bringing too many eviction cases to the court, and has also started denying money judgments in eviction cases that Pirro felt he was entitled to.
Pirro says he believes the nuisance law is the village's way of saying "we don't like your kind around here." He notes that many of his tenants are on public assistance, or have criminal records, including a number of sex offenders, but maintains that "there's nothing illegal about that."
6 - What happens next?
According to a WHCU report, a court date is tentatively scheduled for mid-December.
The village has remained largely silent on the proceedings.
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