An odd plan in Schenectady
Now that details on proposed changes to Schenectady’s apartment rental inspection program are more than just rumor, and less scary, it’s probably fair to say that they aren’t that significant, either. The exception is for owners of large apartment buildings (six or more units), and for them, frankly, the changes don’t make a whole lot of sense.
They do make sense for the cash-strapped city, insofar as it would reap a bonanza, of sorts, at these landlords’ expense. Instead of having to pay $50 every time a tenant vacates one of their units, as they’ve been doing (and landlords of smaller buildings would continue to do), they’d pay a flat $250 a year plus $25 per inspection. But the inspections wouldn’t be based on apartment turnover; rather, they would be conducted annually. And not of every apartment on a property, just 10 percent of the property’s total number of apartments, with the landlord choosing which. For almost all properties, that would mean just one apartment.
Even the city’s assistant corporation counsel, Carl Falotico, acknowledges that most landlords of properties this size aren’t Schenectady’s problem; rather, it’s the owners of two- and three-family units. (Perhaps that explains why tenant turnover in large buildings is less frequent.) So while it may make some sense to inspect all apartments in the city at least once a year, this change wouldn’t even accomplish that.
Exempting 90 percent of the large buildings’ units, and letting the landlords pick the one apartment to be inspected, are huge loopholes. Still, the city would be asking these landlords — at least the ones with low tenant turnover — to pay a lot more into the program every year. A $275 minimum is too high for an inspection that might, at most, take an hour of an inspector’s time.
While eliminating the current requirement that landlords use licensed electricians and plumbers would save them some money, many of them are already doing such repairs on their own (flouting the law), so it may not make much difference — except when they’re forced to make repairs resulting from code violations. (Currently, they not only have to hire a pro for such repairs, but often get a building permit.)
There are only 240 rental properties that would fall under this new category, thus their owners may not have much political clout. And while the city could certainly use the money, it shouldn’t force what is probably its most responsible class of landlord to shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden.