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Sch'dy landlord expenses could surge


Sch'dy landlord expenses could surge

Schenectady’s controversial rental inspections law would become far more expensive for some landlord
Sch'dy landlord expenses could surge
Chris Morris, apartment manager and organizer of Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change, stands in the common area of one of her apartments on Front Street in Schenectady on Monday, January 21, 2013.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson

Schenectady’s controversial rental inspections law would become far more expensive for some landlords in a new proposal that the City Council will consider today.

Currently, landlords must pay $50 to have a unit inspected every time a tenant moves out. Under the new proposal, that could be hundreds of dollars more.

The proposal came as a shock to organizers of Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change, a new landlord organization that has been lobbying for changes to that law. Landlords have been trying to get the city to inspect less often, charge less money and look only for safety issues.

Council members said they liked some of the group’s ideas, and landlords thought their proposals would be included in a new ordinance.

But when the proposed changes were published in summary form this weekend, landlords were appalled.

Under the proposal, property manager Chris Morris would see her inspection costs rise from $50 a year — on the rare circumstance of a tenant moving out — to $800 a year whether or not anyone moved out.

“People come here and we find they want to stay,” Morris said. “You could go several years without a turnover. So you don’t have a big expense.”

The lack of turnover wouldn’t matter under the proposal.

It calls for yearly inspections of all buildings with six or more units. Landlords must pay $250 per building, plus $25 per unit. Currently for all units in the city the inspection fee is $50 each time a tenant moves out.

In the proposed change for larger buildings, the city would inspect all common areas and up to 10 percent of the units. In the two-building, 12-unit property that Morris maintains, that means she’ll pay $800 even if only one unit gets inspected, plus a couple staircases.

She was not pleased.

“What they’ve come up with is outrageous,” she said. “We’ve been looking for a lightening of the problem. This is moving in the opposite direction.”

Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change had asked the city to inspect units on a calendar cycle rather than whenever a tenant moved out. In some buildings, units might be vacated several times a year. For those, the change would be an improvement — although the cost is still likely to be more than the $50 per unit that they pay now.

But the landlords had clearly said they wanted inspections done much less frequently than once a year, and they raised public objections late last year when they heard there might be a yearly requirement. At the time, City Council members assured them publicly that there would be no such requirement.

“Now we are looking at a dramatic change,” Morris said, adding that she could not understand how city officials could draft such a proposal. She had expected it to incorporate at least some of SLIC’s ideas.

She said she thought it was an attempt to collect more money.

“We know the city needs money. But it can’t all come from the landlords,” she said.

Councilman Carl Erikson said that he, too, expected the proposal to include ideas from SLIC.

He expects a presentation on the topic today to include more details than the three-paragraph summary published in the council’s agenda. The council’s committee meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.

He added that he wants the proposal to include inspections, even though he knows many landlords object.

“We feel there needs to be inspections because there are people living in apartments that should not be rented,” he said. “We have a lot of people living in dangerous situations.”

Thus, he said, it’s the council’s job to monitor the industry.

But he said the situation isn’t fair to the “good” landlords.

“They get punished, a little bit,” he said, adding that if every landlord offered habitable, safe dwellings, the city would not need inspection laws.

Morris and members of SLIC had proposed a compromise to that problem: granting “preferred property” status to buildings that passed a certain number of consecutive inspections. Their landlords might be rewarded by cheaper inspections, or some other incentive, she said.

Erikson likes that idea.

“It sounds like a good idea,” he said. “If you have a track record of passing every inspection for the last x amount of time, maybe you get inspected less frequently.”

But overall, he said, the goal of the law should be to raise the housing standard in Schenectady. He said professionals who work in the city often rent apartments elsewhere because they have so much difficulty finding an acceptable apartment here.

“Frankly, the quality of rental units is inconsistent in Schenectady,” he said. “You know, it’s ‘Union Street is good.’ Well, sure, between this block and that block, not there but here it gets good again — how are you supposed to know where to live if you’re not from here?”

The council will not vote on the matter today. Councilmen plan to hold a public hearing on Feb. 11 at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall before making a final decision.

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