Schenectady’s landlords are learning the art of public negotiation.
The Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change group crafted a detailed counterproposal to the rental inspection changes up for a public hearing Monday night.
The group also came up with a strategy for presenting their detailed proposal despite the council’s three-minute time limit for speakers.
They wrote a nine-minute presentation and passed it from hand to hand, each person picking up precisely where the last person left off.
Their main point was that they wanted inspections done every three years, regardless of how many tenants live in the apartment during that time.
“That would be very nice,” said landlord Bharath Arjoon.
Currently, the unit must be inspected each time a tenant moves out; the city’s proposal would let landlords choose whether to get units inspected every year or when tenants move.
SLIC landlords had previously argued against ever having inspections. But council members said they would not budge on that point, because some tenants are living in substandard conditions.
So this time the landlords focused on making the inspections more tolerable.
They asked the council to give them a checklist so they could be sure their units would pass inspection.
“Landlords are sometimes unaware of what inspectors are looking for, so this will give them a heads up,” Arjoon said.
Council members said after the meeting that they were inclined to support the landlords on that point, even though it might be a lengthy list.
“Not the entire book of codes, but a summary,” Councilman Carl Erikson said. “I think it’s a great idea.” Council President Margaret King agreed, saying, “That makes a lot of sense.”
Erikson said a checklist could keep inspectors from missing items and give landlords a sense of consistency.
“Because one of the things you don’t want people to think — whether it’s a perceived issue or a real issue — is that my house is being judged differently from your house,” he said.
Some landlords have complained that they are sometimes inspected more strictly than others.
But council members did not seem as willing to make the other major change proposed by the group — a fee decrease.
Landlord Bob Burgess asked the council to reduce its inspection fee, which has risen sharply in recent years and is slated to go much higher under various scenarios in the proposed amendments.
He said the original inspection fee of $25 should be reinstated to prove to landlords that the city is not simply milking landlords for money.
If the fee is decreased, he said, “We firmly believe that compliance can double.”
He added that the city’s real goal should be getting buildings up to code — not getting money.
“Not only will the compliance percentage increase, but most importantly, as more and more landlords come on board, the resulting upgrades and further attention to property will bring on that desperately sought-after improved quality of housing throughout the entire city of Schenectady,” he said.
But changing the fee is dicey. The city’s financial condition is precarious — so much so that a bank recently denied the city’s application for a routine car loan because of its unusually high debt load.
King and Erikson said they would discuss reducing the fee — but made no promises.
“We’ve got to talk about that,” King said.