Schenectady may soon have a board to mediate disputes between the expanded code enforcement department and city landlords.
A group of landlords who have organized Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change asked the council last week to make several changes to code enforcement. Some requests are unlikely to be granted — they want the rental inspection program to be limited or abolished, while the council is adding a worker to do more inspections. But council members said they can grant one request: recreating the Housing Standards Review Board.
“It seems to make sense,” said Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo, who proposed the idea.
She said that since the city is focusing on increased rental inspections and bringing foreclosed houses up to code, as well as doing more code inspections throughout the city, an appeals board might be a good idea.
Council members agreed to read over the current rules for the review board and decide whether it should be changed. Perazzo plans to bring the issue up again at the Dec. 3 meeting for “changes or tweaks.”
Mayor Gary McCarthy said he could appoint members to the board by January.
The five-member board was created in 1991, but stopped meeting in 1994 after repeated board absences. The board needed three members present to hold a meeting but had difficulty getting that many to show up, news reports at the time indicated.
The board was supposed to rule on any complaints regarding code violations or rental certificate inspection failures for multiple-unit dwellings. The goal, according to the city’s code, was to give landlords a way to appeal code enforcement decisions without going to court.
The board has the power to uphold, modify or eliminate any code violation or inspection failure.
In addition to determining whether an inspection went beyond the city’s codes, the board could also determine that some violations were not serious enough to require sanctions.
Landlords would have to prove that they had “practical difficulties or unnecessary hardships” with correcting the violation. Under that circumstance, if the board found a way to preserve “public health, safety and welfare,” it does not have to enforce the strict letter of the law.
But the board is supposed to follow the “basic spirit and intent” of the code enforcement laws.
The city code specifically said the board could bend the rules in regards to building entrances, fire-proofing public halls and stairs, and requirements for open spaces.
Neighbors to a landlord’s property could also take complaints to the board, if a code violation directly affected them.