First there was a landlords association. Now, tenants are organizing.
The group’s first meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the McChesney Room of the Central Library.
Organizer Deborah Rembert called for tenants to attend “to stand up and make a change with slum landlords in our community.”
The tenants’ voices were all but silent during the months-long negotiation of new apartment inspection rules. Tenants didn’t speak at the public hearings or hold private meetings with city officials, as the landlords did.
Landlords in the Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change group argued that inspections should not be required at all. But Rembert said the tenants would likely support inspections.
“I think that we should get very serious about the inspections of these properties,” she said. “No one wants to live in dilapidated, infested housing. They want to have housing that is safe, and suitable for their children.”
But she added that most tenants don’t think the apartment inspection law is particularly relevant to their lives. Most tenants have never lived in an apartment that was inspected by the city.
“It’s a joke,” Rembert said of the program.
Still, she said she doesn’t entirely blame the landlords who rent out buildings in disrepair.
Some common ground
She attended a SLIC meeting and came away with some sympathy.
“They don’t have adequate money,” she said. “Landlords are saying, ‘I’d like to fix my place but because I have to pay so much in taxes, it takes away from my income.’ ”
Still, she said, something must be done.
“People are getting injured in houses like that. You hear about all these fires,” she said.
She wants tenants to brainstorm ideas on how to work with landlords to improve housing.
Her idea is to get the city to offer matching grants to landlords.
“Give them an incentive. If you do this, we’ll match whatever you have to try to better your property,” she said.
She also wants to link tenants and landlords.
“We have to work together,” she said. “Most of them seemed to really care. They want to be better landlords. Those landlords want to work with the tenants but they don’t know how to do it.”
Landlord group organizer Chris Morris said she’s eager to meet with a tenants group so they could collaborate.
She wants tenants to learn not only their rights, but also their responsibilities.
The first one: insist on a lease.
That way, tenants know what they’re supposed to do.
“If I leave my garbage here, I’m going to get called on it,” Morris said. “Expect that you’re going to be held accountable.”
She also wants landlords to be more careful about who they accept as a tenant.
“I’m saying to the landlords, you need to talk to them, interview them, do a background check,” she said.
She wants to tell tenants that landlords might refuse them.
“We’re going to be paying attention to people who are being evicted. Your past will follow you,” she said. “You’re judged by what you’ve done and by the company you keep.”
She also said it would be helpful for tenants to understand fully the rules of any rent subsidy, such as Section 8 inspection rules or when payments occur.
Too often, she said, tenants give landlords misinformation because they don’t understand the intricate rules of whatever program is helping them.
But she added that tenants should also look at landlords and their apartments carefully before deciding where to live.
“It’s important for a tenant to know what they’re getting into, to look at the situation carefully,” she said.