Those who abandon their properties and don’t show up in court are now getting arrested.
Mayor Gary McCarthy has ordered police to begin arresting those who refused to show up in court this month to answer summons for alleged code violations.
“We just have to get the message out there that we cannot have people who thumb their nose at the system and have callous disregard for community standards,” McCarthy said.
The Law Department began an aggressive effort to clean up the city by hauling the owners of what they called the city’s 100 worst buildings into court this month. About 50 percent didn’t show up.
For the most part, those owners have abandoned their buildings, but some have continued to rent them out, despite doing no work to maintain the property.
“That’s more frustrating, where people are collecting rent and not putting any money back into it,” McCarthy said.
After so few came to court, judges signed dozens of arrest warrants. McCarthy told police to give those warrants priority, and in less than a week, police spokesman Sgt. Mark McCracken said, officers have arrested about 10 of the owners.
“We’re starting to put special emphasis on the code violation warrants,” McCracken said. “It’s almost a daily occurrence.”
McCarthy is hoping the pressure forces owners to take action.
“I want them out of the business,” he said, referring to owners who buy rental property as an investment but don’t maintain the buildings.
As for those who have simply abandoned their property and left it vacant, he wants them to sell or make repairs.
Blighted buildings bring down the value of surrounding properties, he said, but he’s also concerned that they encourage crime. Prostitutes and drug dealers have set up shop inside some houses, and others have become enticing prey to thieves looking to steal copper pipes.
“These properties tend to create an atmosphere for criminal behavior,” McCarthy said. “People have to take code enforcement seriously.”
The arrests are the latest in a series of housing-focused changes under McCarthy’s administration. Code enforcers are also doing publicized neighborhood sweeps for violations. While they leave courtesy notices for residents with minor problems, they are also boarding up houses and fixing hazardous conditions. They hammered down loose sheet metal on a roof earlier this month, among other work.
The Law Department is reviewing 750 abandoned properties with long-delinquent tax bills and may foreclose on hundreds of them this year. The final list will be available in three weeks.
The department is also taking hundreds of owners to court on accusations they have abandoned their properties. Owners have been found as far away as Florida and Minnesota.
McCarthy is also trying to entice new owners to Schenectady. The city has partnered with KeyBank, which is offering a special mortgage program through Key To The City.
McCarthy has also directed key city workers — including the police and fire chiefs — to attend monthly city-wide open houses so they can answer prospective buyers’ questions about life in the city. So far, Realtors have reported selling five or more houses during each open house, and about 40 houses overall in the last three months.