Schenectady landlords are still lobbying to get rid of the rental inspection law just as city officials are gearing up to enforce it more than ever.
A large group of landlords met with Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo this week to push their case. They’re hoping she is at least willing to lighten the regulations.
“We would like to abolish it altogether if we could,” said landlord Mohammed Hafez, speaking as a member of the Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change group.
The rental inspection law requires landlords to let code enforcers into their units every time a tenant moves out. The unit can only be rented again after it passes inspection.
Most landlords openly flout the law. The City Council agreed in the 2013 budget to hire another inspector to focus on rental inspections in hopes of getting more landlords to comply.
But Perazzo said she would be willing to hear the landlords’ concerns and consider their proposals. She said she was “very impressed” with their organization, SLIC, and their detailed presentations.
She has championed one of their ideas, the reinstatement of the Housing Standards Review Board, and envisions it as a mediator between code enforcers and landlords who fail the rental inspection.
“Just to be a neutral ear,” she said. “I see the function of the board just like the zoning or planning board — to help the owner interpret the city code.”
She also said she’s willing to put one landlord on the board, saying a balanced committee needs all perspectives.
But she’s not willing to simply drop the inspections.
“It is important to me that we protect people who want to run businesses in our city, but it’s also important to me that we protect the citizens of our city,” she said.
Hafez is hoping for more.
“It basically should be optional,” he said of the inspections. “We have the right to say no to the inspection and if the city insists, they can get a warrant. The property owner is free to refuse any inspection and also cannot be penalized by the city.”
Under current law, landlords who rent out a unit without passing an inspection are committing a crime. If they later officially admit to renting out the unit — which generally only occurs in eviction proceedings — the city charges them with a misdemeanor.
City officials have long argued that the inspections are needed to prevent residents from living in uninhabitable circumstances. They note that some dangers, including wiring problems, might not be noticed by tenants who have no training in building codes. Inspectors use special equipment to check GFI outlets, for example, to verify that the wires are grounded.
Hafez said if tenants report a safety issue, he has no problem with city officials getting a warrant to inspect. But he dismissed the idea that dangerous situations could go unnoticed.
“Do they go to every one-family and check every owner?” he asked. “One-family homes probably have never been inspected.”
He and other landlords also told Perazzo that they shouldn’t be required to hire a licensed electrician or plumber for small jobs that they can do themselves. Hafez said the city should simply inspect the work and verify it was done correctly.
“For God’s sake, the Home Depot offers classes in how to rewire your entire house! Not just a GFI!” he said.
Perazzo said she plans to look into that.
She will find out why licensed workers are required, and whether there are any alternatives.
She also plans to look at the checklist for rental inspections, to see whether there are unnecessary items on the list. Some landlords complain that they are required to put in additional outlets or fix closet doors, instead of just handling health and safety problems.
“I’ll see if there’s any room for movement,” Perazzo said.