SCHENECTADY COUNTY — County legislators will reconsider a tenant rights law from the 1990s that a landlords group says puts an unfair burden on them to store any items left behind by evicted tenants.
The law, passed in 1999, requires landlords to store any property a tenant leaves behind for up to six months after the person has left — often after what is already a lengthy eviction proceeding.
Members of the landlord group Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change, speaking before a county Legislature meeting last week, said complying with the rule can sometimes cost them thousands of dollars, and evicted tenants often simply abandon whatever items they leave behind, leaving the landlord to eventually dispose of them. About 25 members of the group attended the meeting, and a half-dozen spoke about their concerns.
“Perhaps some of this legislation can change to accommodate some of our challenges,” said Chris Morris of Schenectady, the landlord group’s president.
While Legislature members didn’t immediately respond to the presentation, one county leader said the county is at least open to making some landlord-friendly changes to the current law.
“We’ll look into it,” said county Legislature Chairman Tony Jasenski, D-Rotterdam. “Six months seems to be a little excessive. There should be a fair balance between landlord and tenant rights.”
The storage requirement was included in a set of eviction guidelines the county Legislature adopted in 1999 — changes that were praised by landlords at the time as an improvement, since other aspects of the law made evicting problem or non-paying tenants easier. If a tenant does come back to reclaim their property under the current law, they can be required to pay any storage costs.
Members of the landlord group said tenants aren’t evicted without good reason. Some landlords cited examples of tenants who were evicted for non-payment and left clothing and furnishings behind. If they simply lock the apartment to store the items, as is sometimes done, landlords said that prevents them from getting the apartment ready for a new tenant.
“Collectively, we dispute the laws requiring the landlord to take on any responsibility for vacated tenants or their belongings,” Landlords Influencing Change member Marion Goodrich said. “Tenants should be held accountable for themselves. Once a tenancy is terminated and a tenant is out, a landlord should be authorized to immediately dispose of anything that remains.”
The Schenectady Tenant Association Meeting Program, however, said the law shouldn’t be changed, and that in many instances, landlords need to show more respect for tenants, even if previous tenants have been problematic.
“They should keep those people’s belongings for six months or better, to give the person a chance to get back on their feet,” said Deborah Rembert, president of the program. “A lot of the tenants are terribly mistreated by landlords who really don’t care about the conditions the tenants are kept under.”
Morris said members of Landlords Influencing Change are good landlords. The group was formed in 2011 to improve the overall quality of Schenectady’s rental community, with an emphasis on landlords keeping properties in good order, carefully screening prospective tenants, using detailed rental agreements and following legal procedures when necessary, she said.
Schenectady, like many other cities, has a high percentage of rental housing. U.S. Census figures show that about half the city’s 30,000 housing units are rentals. That’s the highest percentage of any municipality in Schenectady County and about 5 percentage points more than the New York state average per municipality, according to the towncharts.com website.