Schenectady County

Schenectady urged to bring back Housing Standards board

A group of landlords in the city are looking for Schenectady to reactivate a Housing Standards Revie

A group of landlords in the city are looking for Schenectady to reactivate a Housing Standards Review Board to assist with issues regarding code violations.

Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change wants it to mediate disputes between city landlords and the Code Enforcement Department. Chris Morris, director of SLIC, said the board would provide an opportunity for landlords to have a voice.

“We absolutely would like to have an opportunity to express concerns about any situation before being forced to go to court,” Morris said. “There are many situations that develop that have to do with code violations, where someone is cited for something and doesn’t find it reasonable.”

The Housing Standards Review Board was created in 1991 and has been inactive since 1994. During a City Council committee meeting Tuesday evening, Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo proposed reactivating the board, and her colleagues agreed.

She made the same proposal in 2012, but efforts to put the board together never moved forward because of changes occurring at the time within the code department, she said.

“It is a board that exists and the council is in support of activating it,” Perazzo said. “SLIC feels this is still really important. I agreed that I would spearhead the organization of the board for them. Just like the police review board, it’s always nice to have an outside source to take a look at what’s happening.”

The role of the housing review board is still unclear. Perazzo said the board’s five members, to be appointed by the mayor, would listen to concerns voiced by landlords and make recommendations to the city.

Perazzo is working with the city’s Law Department to tweak the language of the board’s powers and present a final recommendation to the City Council in two weeks. Corporation Council Carl Falotico said the process is in the early stages.

“The duties of the board will be changed drastically,” Perazzo said. “The board would serve as a neutral ear to hear cases when people feel like they haven’t been treated fairly.”

According to current city code, the goal of the board is to give landlords a way to appeal code-enforcement decisions without going to court and it has the power to uphold, modify or eliminate any code violation or inspection failure.

City Building Inspector Eric Shilling said he is concerned that the board would add another layer of bureaucracy that’s not needed. But he stressed that he doesn’t have any objections to the board because the department has nothing to hide.

“From our standpoint, we always attempt and I think we do enforce the code in a uniform and fair manner,” he said. “I’m not sure what direction the board would take or what their objectives would be. But I would like to be involved and informed to see what the concerns are.”

Morris said tensions are high between landlords and the city. She said she is hearing from several landlords that “it’s never been as bad as it is now.”

During a SLIC meeting Wednesday evening, Morris said a landlord recounted a situation with a tenant who complained to the code department about a leak in the ceiling and the city “got right on him and threatened him.” Ultimately there was no violation, but the landlord found the situation “quite threatening,” she said.

“There is much more enforcement now,” she said. “People feel strongly that if there is an issue the first thing that should be done is to get ahold of the landlord and give them the chance to explain the problem. This should be done in a professional and proper manner. This is stuff we have been talking about since the beginning of time. How can this continue on?”

Shilling said the department is required to respond to complaints and determine if they are valid. If landlords object to a citation, they could present their case in court, he said.

“I’m clearly aware that tenants could use this as a tactic against landlords,” he said. “But we have to address complaints. If they object they can go to court.”

Perazzo said she would like one member of the board to be a local property owner. One member is required to be an architect or engineer, according to current city code. Members would serve a five-year term.

“The balance of any good board should have a member who lives that life and knows the challenges of being a property owner firsthand,” she said.

Councilwoman Marion Porterfield said she supports the board being reinstated and believes it’s important for landlords to have an outlet to discuss housing disputes. She said the board could hear complaints from landlords and bring concerns to the city.

“Based on my conversations with landlords, they don’t feel they have enough positive interaction with the city,” Porterfield said. “This board can bring concerns to the city so we can work together and work through them. I think we have to be careful though that we’re not trying to create a board that tells the city how to manage a department.”

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