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Landlord to challenge Schenectady's rental inspection law

Friday, July 5, 2013
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— A Schenectady landlord is challenging the city’s rental inspection law.

Mohammed Hafez wants city officials to actually get a warrant to inspect his apartments. He said he and his tenants won’t voluntarily let inspectors inside.

“The landlord has the right to refuse consent if the apartment is vacant. The tenant has the right to refuse consent. This is my view,” Hafez said. “They have to go get a warrant.”

He was arraigned last week on charges of renting 10 apartments without getting the required inspections. He faces fines if convicted.

Landlords are required to pay $50 for an inspection every time a tenant moves out and must make any required repairs before renting the apartment again. Very few landlords have followed the law. This year, city officials began enforcing it, going door to door to find occupied apartments and citing the property owner for renting without an inspection.

In 2007, another landlord challenged the law and failed in court. But Andrew Wisoff was facing charges of severe code violations, and city attorneys successfully argued inspectors were needed to protect Wisoff’s tenants. Those tenants were also willing to cooperate with inspectors, and a state Supreme Court judge in Schenectady County ruled the inspection law was constitutional. However, Judge Vito C. Caruso said warrants are necessary.

“Schenectady’s ordinance expressly provides that where consent is refused, the inspection is undertaken pursuant to warrant,” he wrote in his decision.

Hafez’s case is different. Hafez’s Bellevue apartments blend in well with the one-family houses nearby. He says proudly that no one can tell they’re rented.

“I don’t have any code violations,” he said. “It’s simply the rental certificate.”

He’s convinced he was charged in an effort to garner revenue for the city.

“It’s not about safety, it’s about money,” he said. “The way I see this, it is really harassment.”

But Hafez did provide proof of property insurance and give the city Code Department a way to contact him, complying with other parts of the rental law.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico was encouraged by that. He said he expected widespread compliance with inspections now that code enforcers are actually checking to make sure landlords have followed the rules.

“It’s a sustained effort by the city, whereas in the past, before Mayor [Gary] McCarthy, people would talk about it but not follow through,” he said. “Now people know it’s not going to go away, so they’re starting to play by rules.”

He said the effort was not designed to get money for the city.

“It’s better for everybody. It protects them both,” he said, referring to tenants and landlords.

Landlords can use the inspection report to prove in court they provided a functional apartment. Often, when a landlord goes to court for an eviction, the tenant claims the apartment was unsafe, and landlords claim the problems were caused by the tenant. An inspection can prove a window, for example, was unbroken when the tenant moved in.

With an inspection certificate, tenants can also be sure the apartment has functioning plumbing and electrical systems, which many tenants do not know how to check on their own.

 
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