The city of Schenectady has such a history of problems with nuisance properties — long-vacant buildings like the former State Street flea market that was hit by suspicious fires twice this month — one would think by now it would have a policy in place for dealing with them. That the city doesn’t, and continues to be confronted by dangerous fires and costly demolition bills, seems inexcusable.
Granted, it’s not easy dealing with such properties when they’re owned by out-of-town (or, as in the case of the flea market, out-of-country) investors who form limited liability corporations to beat the rap if something goes wrong, and make themselves scarce to boot. But the city, which according to its law department has as many as 800 such properties, needs to try harder because this problem isn’t going away.
And it’s expensive: When the Brandywine School got torched by squatters three years ago, it cost the city $750,000 to tear down; the owner’s insurance company wouldn’t pay because the building hadn’t been properly secured. In the case of the flea market, neither the building’s owner nor the bank that held a lien on the place had any insurance, so the city will once again get stuck with the demolition bill: $100,000 to $150,000.
The city needs to pay more attention to its vacant buildings — keeping an inventory of them, establishing a way to contact their owners, and imposing rules (such as maintaining proper insurance) so that if there are problems, taxpayers don’t get stuck holding the bag. The rules and procedures don’t have to be that onerous or costly — as some recently proposed in Glenville seemed to be. By the same token, the city shouldn’t rely on owners’ cooperation to ensure that the list is complete, or to take action: Between its code enforcement and public safety departments, it should be able to identify most of the sore spots.
But waiting for the next one to evolve into a costly and potentially hazardous situation is the wrong way to proceed; a proactive policy is the solution.