Amsterdam, like other cities in the region, has a problem with irresponsible absentee landlords — the kind who don’t care how bad their properties look and ignore any efforts by officials to get them to make repairs. Those efforts are time-consuming and costly, and it’s not surprising that at least one alderman has grown so frustrated by the situation that he’s proposing, among other things, to create a property tax surcharge on such landlords. It’s not a bad idea, just an impractical one.
For starters, there are politics to consider: Before the city could impose such a two-tier tax structure, a home-rule bill would have to be passed by the state Legislature. That seems fairly unlikely because the city’s representatives, Sen. Hugh Farley and Assemblyman George Amedore, won’t support it. When a similar plan was pushed in Schenectady last winter, Farley (and Assemblyman James Tedisco) decried it as a new tax that would hit the poorest — tenants of these buildings — the hardest. They wouldn’t sponsor it and, not surprisingly, it went nowhere.
But William Wills’ plan has other problems. He envisions imposing it only on bad actors — absentee landlords who get cited with “six or seven” code violations within a year. OK, but currently when habitual offenders get hauled into court, they often ignore their fines, let their homes fall to foreclosure, and the city gets stiffed. Why would that be any less likely to occur if the landlord instead (or in addition) faced a 20 percent property tax surcharge?
And wouldn’t the city still have to take such landlords to court, to give them due process, before slapping them with tax surcharges? So why not just raise their fines?
Admittedly, there isn’t much the city can do with irresponsible low-end landlords: Whether the city imposes higher taxes or steeper fines, or both, they seem unlikely to change their ways until they’re ready.