Schenectady County

Editorial: Schenectady County law unfair to landlords

Why should they be required to hold onto ex-tenants' possessions?
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PHOTOGRAPHER:

Renting an apartment is a straight-up business transaction.

The landlord has a product, the apartment, and the tenant pays money for that product through rent payments.

Once that transaction comes to a legal end — through expiration of a lease or a mutual parting of ways or a forced legal eviction, there should be no obligation of either party to do the other any favors — especially favors that cost money.

But that’s what a Schenectady County tenants rights law passed in 1999 does by “authorizing” a tenant’s former landlord to hold onto the evicted tenant’s possessions for up to six months after the tenant has moved out.

The law puts an unfair financial and legal obligation on landlords, and county officials need to revisit it and significantly alter or eliminate it.

If you’ve ever paid to haul away a lot of material to the dump or paid to store it in a storage facility, you know how quickly the costs can add up.

Every day the material is sitting uncollected in an abandoned apartment is another day when the landlord can’t clean up the apartment, can’t make upgrades and repairs, and can’t make money renting it to the next tenant.

While some type of consideration for removing old articles might be expected of a social service agency or charity that deals with the public, a landlord is neither and has no obligation to act as one. 

By the time a landlord has gone through the legal process of eviction — it’s not like they can just throw people out on the streets — much time and expense has already been consumed and the renter has had plenty of time to make arrangements for the removal of their personal property.

It’s true there are unscrupulous landlords who don’t maintain properties, who don’t inspect their properties, who don’t make necessary repairs or respond to tenants’ complaints.

But there are mechanisms for dealing with those types of landlords through code enforcement and enforcement of tenants’ legal rights. This issue is completely unrelated to those, and they shouldn’t be lumped together.

As a compromise, landlords advocates might have to accept a “reasonable time period” for a person to retrieve their belongings beyond the date of eviction. The county must specifically define that. Is it 24 hours? Five days? A month?

Some people, especially those in financial straits, do legitimately need time to get things together, to find friends and truck. Seventy-two hours after an eviction wouldn’t overly burden most landlords. If for nothing other than compassion, five days to a week might be more reasonable.

What is not reasonable is forcing one partner in an expired business transaction to continue to sacrifice their own money and take on an additional burden for the other partner — especially for six whole months.

County officials need to be fair to tenants. But at what point does that mean they’re being unfair to the landlords?

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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