The Village Board on Tuesday again put off a decision on enacting a proposed building inspection law after listening to landlords for nearly two hours criticizing the law as onerous, unnecessary, expensive and potentially unconstitutional.
The hearing was the third time in the past three months that owners of some of the 1,200 apartments or commercial buildings in the village protested efforts by Code Enforcement Officer Michael Piccolo to increase inspection frequency and fees.
“In the economy we’re facing now we should be trying to entice investors to invest here, not telling them we don’t trust you,” said attorney Thomas Spargo.
The latest revision easing proposed annual inspections to once every three years after two consecutive years without violations still drew harsh criticism from a dozen speakers in a crowd of about 40 people.
In addition to $35 per dwelling unit inspection fees, much of the objection centered on worry that tenants would not give their permission for inspections.
Several landlords contended that the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects people from government intrusion in their homes without a warrant.
“A man’s home is his castle,” said Duane Miller, who rents a single apartment. “If his home is an apartment, that’s his castle.”
“I’m not here to come in and be the Gestapo, as many of you are trying to make me out,” Piccolo said.
“I cannot go in [apartments] without permission,” Piccolo said. But he said he hasn’t had problems gaining permission from tenants.
Showing pictures of apartments with hanging wires, holes in floors, and piles of trash and debris, Piccolo said the plan “is for the well-being and safety of the tenants and the landlords.”
Piccolo claimed some tenants feared speaking out for fear of eviction. Several landlords said tenants bore some responsibility for some of the problems Piccolo illustrated.
Many questioned the need for the $35 per unit fee.
Village Trustee Mark Galasso, who said the fee was determined as a way to cover the cost of the inspector’s time for an estimated 400 inspections a year when the current state-required, three-year inspection law was adopted a year ago.
“This [cost] all comes back to the tenant,” said Ralph Chichester, who rents nine units in three buildings.
Chichester said landlords are forced to pass on the costs of inspections and registration requirement in the form of higher rents.
Miller insisted that village officials were misinterpreting the state requirements that he said required only that common areas, such as hallways in multiple dwelling units be inspected once every three years.
A previous draft of the law called for a $35 annual registration fee for each unit. That has been changed to require “a fee of $35 per unit shall be payable upon completion of fire and property maintenance inspection.”
But it was unclear Tuesday whether that would cost the same, since Spargo pointed out the law also would require “inspections of rental units” on an annual basis.
“This law is getting in the way of everybody working together,” said Spargo, who said he was commenting at the suggestion of Eric Dolen, the landlord with the most apartments in the village.
Dolen owns Hammerstone/Jay Ridge apartments and rents a total of 196 apartments in the village.
Mayor Mike Sellers told landlords: “I don’t think this law is going to kill you guys.”
Dolen and the other landlords speaking said the current requirement of inspections every three years works, but the village hasn’t given it a chance.
“Taxes and regulations … That’s why people are moving out of New York state,” said local investment adviser Leo McAllister.
“Use what you have,” Dolen said. “What you have is adequate.”
At the suggestion of Deputy Mayor Sandy MacKay, the board decided 3-1 to “take a very close look at it” and reconsider the proposed law.
Trustee Carol McGuire voted against reconsidering the law. Trustee William D. Gilmore Jr. was absent.
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Categories: Schenectady County