Schenectady County

Changes sought in Schenectady’s rental inspection policy

A small group of landlords and property managers want the city to inspect all rental units every two

Landlords are taking a new tack in their fight against the city’s rental certificates.

A small group of landlords and property managers want the city to inspect all rental units every two years, rather than every time a tenant moves out.

“It makes better sense to go per unit,” said Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change organizer Chris Morris, adding that landlords find the process “exasperating.” They must schedule an appointment, wait for the inspector to be available, fix any items that are found wanting, wait for a second inspection and then, finally, rent out the unit.

“When you have to go through the process every time, that doesn’t encourage you to comply,” she said.

The rental certificate has never been popular. In a city with an estimated 10,000 rental units, just 2,168 apartments have been inspected in the last year, according to city records.

The new landlords group discussed fighting to abolish the certificates altogether, but City Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said she told them that would never be supported by the council.

“Ultimately, the safety of our tenants is most important,” she said.

After hearing about their new request for inspections every two years, she was lukewarm.

“I don’t know how I’d feel about two years. Two years is a long time,” she said. “Two years is a lot of smoke detector batteries … but I’d be willing to hear their reasons as to why.”

Councilwoman Margaret King was more open to the idea.

“Probably not such a bad idea,” she said. “Certainly it’s something I would consider. In some ways, it does make sense, in terms of a regular [inspection].”

Linking the certificate to the tenant — rather than just regularly inspecting each apartment — means some units don’t get inspected for years, while others need to be inspected every few months, at a cost of $50 each time.

Many landlords simply don’t tell the city when a unit changes hands. Code enforcers must prove a turnover in tenants before insisting on an inspection, and that has been difficult.

It has led to an adversarial relationship between landlords and the city, with city attorneys now watching eviction court because it’s the only time the landlord will tell them who’s living in the unit. If the non-paying tenant hauled to eviction court isn’t the one on the rental certificate, city attorneys are immediately slapping the landlord with a misdemeanor charge for failing to follow the law.

King said a regular inspection schedule could make it easier to enforce the law because they would no longer have to prove that new tenants had moved in.

“It might help,” she said. “It’s worth considering.”

The new landlords group is also hoping to lobby for changes in code enforcement policies. Morris said they want enforcers to focus on the worst buildings first.

“We see the garbage and the drugs, where is the code enforcement?” she said. “There’s not consistency — one code enforcer is looking at a house because there’s no railing, and the house next to it is falling down.”

She thinks code enforcers are wasting their time on good landlords when they could be fighting blight.

“We just want to get some things altered to something that makes sense,” she said.

Landlords plan to meet with subsidy groups, as well, including the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and Mohawk Opportunities. They plan to ask for greater accountability and quicker evictions when troubled tenants damage an apartment.

“It’s always drawn out, ‘Give them another chance.’ And who suffers?” she said. “And in the end, the tenant can destroy the place and who gets left holding the bag? Again, the landlord.”

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