An obscure law created in the 1970s to help the NYPD bust brothels in Times Square gives police the leeway to padlock a private residence or shutter a business over a minor offense or even suspicion of a crime. And while Mayor de Blasio and the City Council have upheld the so-called nuisance abatement law as an effective strategy for busting drug dealers, illegal nightclubs, and delis allegedly selling K2, recent investigations conducted by the Daily News and Pro Publica suggest it's also justified the NYPD in barring people, primarily people of color, from their homes on the basis of minor possession allegations. In the case of small businesses, the law has had a disproportionately negative impact on low-income immigrant families, whose businesses have been slapped with steep fines and temporary closures for crimes like allegedly selling alcohol to minors.

"The nuisance abatement law is a powerful tool that can swiftly put an end to ongoing illegal activities in our communities," said Public Safety Chair Vanessa Gibson. "However, it has become clear that the wide and disproportionate usage of this law has negatively impacted law abiding New Yorkers, and New Yorkers of color in particular."

Out of 297 cases reviewed by reporters this year in which a person gave up her lease or was banished from home as the result of a nuisance abatement allegation, half were not ultimately convicted of a crime.

The City Council on Wednesday introduced a package of bills that would bar civil court judges from permitting the NYPD to padlock a private home or business based solely on NYPD allegations. Instead, civilians would have a chance to appear in civil court first.

The bills aim to curb a routine that played out in 70 percent of private business nuisance abatement cases reviewed by reporters this spring: business owners must often choose between a lengthy or even permanent shutdown, and allowing frequent NYPD raids and access to the business's security camera footage. From Pro Publica:

Once served with nuisance abatement actions, business owners are faced with a choice. They can fight the case and remain shut down until it's resolved, earning no income. Or they can agree to the NYPD's demands, sign a settlement, and reopen. As a result, cases tend to get resolved very quickly.

Another bill would change the definition of a "nuisance" to strictly the sale of drugs, rather than sale or possession. In one case highlighted by the Daily News, a 53-year-old man was permanently barred from his family home based on allegations that he sold crack out of the apartment. The NYPD's only evidence to that effect was a Ziploc bag of crack, two pipes, a plate with crack residue, and a weed grinder recovered during a search. (The laws would also prohibit the city from banning a person from his or her home for more than three years, maximum.)

The City Council would also like to increase the number of alleged sales of an illicit substance required to merit a nuisance case: four alleged drug sales instead of three, and four alleged sales of alcohol to a minor instead of just one.

Under the legislation, the NYPD would be required to document its application of the law, including a precinct-by-precinct breakdown of nuisance cases which reports suggest will reveal racial biases. Ninety percent of the sample of commercial cases reviewed by the Daily News and Pro Publica took place in minority neighborhoods.

Legal Aid Society Civil Practice Attorney Adriene Holder said in a statement that while the legislation marked a first step in the right direction, "We hope that in the future the Council will consider eliminating this unconstitutional remedy altogether.”

Initially applied primarily by city lawyers with proof of crime at businesses, nuisance abatement power was used with increasing frequency under former NYPD Commissioner Bratton, who called it "probably the most powerful civil tool available to the police" during his first stint as commissioner in 1995. According to the Daily News, the NYPD was filing more than 1,000 cases per year as of this winter, three quarters of which were against private residences.

Mayor de Blasio told reporters on Wednesday that he hadn't seen the new legislation yet, but that he's "certainly happy to talk to the council" about it.

"We have said, and the NYPD has said, that we can and will and are making improvements in some of the due process issues, but we still believe that there is an appropriate use of this strategy," he added.

The City Council is scheduled to hold a hearing on the Nuisance Abatement Fairness Act on November 2nd.