It’s hard to read a story like the one in Tuesday’s paper about Schenectady landlords and the city’s rental inspection program and not be amused.
At the City Council meeting the night before, a group of them banded together to read a prepared, nine-minute statement, passing it off from one to the other at exactly three-minute intervals to stay within the council’s time limit during “privilege of the floor.” A novel approach that got their message across, but it was mostly the same, old stale one.
Landlords have never accepted the rental inspection program, which currently requires them to get any apartment inspected every time a tenant moves out. It’s no surprise why: First, there’s a $50 fee for every inspection, and any time an inspection turns up a code violation or other issue, it costs them money to address it. There are a lot of good landlords in the city, for whom the inspections are essentially a nuisance. But there are plenty of bad ones, too — which is why the city needs a program like this.
If more landlords went along with the program, and fixed deficiencies the way they’re supposed to, there wouldn’t as many apartments in such sad shape throughout the city. But many landlords ignore the program, and the city has had trouble finding them and bringing them to justice.
The idea of regular, mandatory inspections for all apartments (not just ones in multi-unit buildings, as was proposed earlier this winter) would address the problem of scofflaw landlords, but the three-year interval recommended by landlords at Monday’s meeting is too long. A year would be OK, except for “good” landlords who never get cited; they might be given two years. To keep up with the work, the city would have to hire more inspectors — otherwise it couldn’t get to every apartment on schedule — but with all landlords participating, enough revenue would be generated to cover the program’s cost.
Covering the program’s cost is what the inspection fee should be set at, but the City Council shouldn’t even think about cutting it from the current $50 level until it knows that the program is self-sustaining.
The landlords did make one reasonable suggestion Monday — having the city prepare a checklist, so they know what’s expected of them in advance. This would also make inspectors more likely to treat all landlords fairly, which has been a common complaint among landlords.