Schenectady County

Schenectady City Council draws up short leash on landlords

After much debate, the City Council is poised to approve new rental inspection rules that give the l

After much debate, the City Council is poised to approve new rental inspection rules that give the landlords almost none of the provisions they had requested.

Under the final draft of the legislation, the fee for inspections won’t be reduced. The inspections will still be done once a year — or even more frequently — rather than once every three years as the landlords had requested.

There will be no performance-critique form to allow landlords to report on the demeanor of their inspector. And owner-occupied apartment buildings will continue to be inspected if there are more than two units.

Landlords had argued that three-unit buildings — one of the most common configurations in the city — should also be exempt if the landlord lives there.

“Yes, I’m disappointed,” said landlord Mohammed Hafez. “We asked for so many things. We were hoping they would compromise on a few. I personally don’t feel we got some compromises from the city.”

But the city did fulfill some requests, and Deputy Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico offered a carrot: In two or three years, if landlords comply with the inspection rules, the city might let good landlords go two or three years between inspections.

“If we get to a point where there’s not a lot of issues, we can talk about it,” Falotico said.

Building Inspector Eric Shilling added that he would be willing to cut back on inspections for landlords who built up a good record over the next two or three years. “Your homes are violation-free and you move quickly when there is a violation,” he said.

Hafez wasn’t impressed by the offer. He wanted the carrot now.

But Shilling said that until he has years of reliable history on a landlord, he must inspect regularly. “A lot can happen to a property in two or three years, especially with health-safety issues,” he said.

He added that he also wants to create a “preferred landlord” program, in which landlords with good inspection records earn a sticker that can help them get good tenants.

Also, under the final draft of the legislation, landlords will be allowed to do minor plumbing and electrical repairs. Owner-occupants are allowed to that work themselves, but landlords were not allowed until now because they would not have to live with the results.

Some landlords are thrilled by that change, and Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change has set up workshops with Home Depot so landlords can learn plumbing and electrical work.

Landlords will also be given a copy of the checklist used by inspectors, although it’s not yet clear whether that checklist will be detailed enough for landlords to understand.

For example, Falotico said the checklist simply says “windows,” to cover all potential problems involving windows.

And a few landlords who own very large buildings with a great deal of turnover could get a break on the fee. The proposal allows them to choose to have just a few units inspected annually, at a much higher cost that the $50 per-unit fee.

The newest option is for landlords to pay more for inspectors to take photos of the unit during the inspection. Those photos could be used later by the landlord to prove tenant damages.

Shilling said he wanted to “hold tenants accountable” through the photo program, which he said would cost landlords “a small fee.”

SLIC organizer Chris Morris said she was pleased to hear city officials talking about “tenant accountability.”

“Maybe this regime is, for the first time, thinking in those terms,” she said, adding that the photo program would help landlords embroiled in disputes with difficult tenants.

Still, she said, landlords wanted much more. “We want the fee reduced,” she said.

Hafez added that a lower fee — he wanted $25, not $50 — would help persuade landlords to get their apartment units inspected.

“That would entice more landlords to comply. To have people comply voluntarily, you need some enticement,” he said. “They didn’t see it that way.”

Morris said SLIC also still wants a way for landlords to critique inspectors.

“It would be a little accountability thing,” she said, adding that the demeanor of the inspector is critically important as the city tries to expand its inspection program.

“If the landlord consents, with some reluctance, you want to have a good experience,” she said.

The City Council will vote on the legislation Monday. But even after the vote, SLIC plans to keep negotiating.

“This is who we are,” Morris said. “And we’re not going away.”

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