Nuisance Abatement

Status Update:

HB 970 was heard in the House Civil Practice and Procedure Subcommittee where committee members felt the legislation was too broad. With the enactment of HB 968 and HB 969 giving municipalities the authority to have “junk vehicles” removed from private property and the authority to force the clean up of owner occupied overgrown lots, this legislation was not pursued.

Background

Municipal governments employ ordinances as a means of protecting the health, safety and welfare of their citizens. These ordinances give local officials "police power" to compel or prohibit certain conduct by all persons, or classes of persons, within their jurisdiction in order to maintain a high, constant quality and standard of life.

Examples include the regulation of animals and lewd behavior. Additionally, ordinances adopted by a municipality that are intended to prevent the occupancy of unsafe and unfit structures, such as building codes, fire codes, housing codes, etc., are also examples of local nuisance measures designed to protect the health, safety, and welfare of citizens.

Problem

Tennessee's "Abatement of Nuisances" law provides for the seizure and forfeiture of personal property and authorizes injunctions for the purpose of ordering defendants to immediately cease activities that create a nuisance. T.C.A. 29-3-101(a)(2) defines "nuisance," but the definition does not include the violation of city codes put in place to protect the health and safety of its citizens.

State statutes governing the abatement of nuisances are vague and, therefore, it is uncertain whether the statutes allow nuisance actions to be brought by cities to enforce violations of municipal codes. Consequently, it is unclear whether municipalities have the authority to remedy local building and fire code violations under the state's nuisance laws.

Remedy

TML is seeking approval of legislation that further defines "nuisance" under T.C.A. 29-3-101 (a)(2) to include the violation of any building, electrical, housing, or fire code, or such similar codes, enacted by local governments to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of citizens."

Benefit to Municipalities

Clarifying that the state's "Abatement of Nuisance" law covers violations of municipal codes will provide cities clear authority to seek injunctive relief, under the state nuisance abatement law, for the purpose of enforcing code violations; thereby allowing municipalities to better protect the health and safety of citizens.