Schenectady’s landlords received strongly worded advice from their own attorney Tuesday: Follow the rental inspection law.
At a meeting of Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change, attorney Sarah Green told them that a member of the group had been fined $100,000 for renting apartments without first getting them inspected.
Another Schenectady landlord was fined nearly $400,000, she said.
The room hushed as she listed the fines.
“They were penalized severely,” she said. “The ongoing fines, they are daily accruing fines. There’s interest and penalties on top of them.”
And, she added, landlords who refuse to get their properties inspected are making the entire organization look bad.
She said the city would offer a “more welcoming attitude” to SLIC “if we can say all of our group are in compliance.”
At issue is not just the cost of inspections — $50 per apartment — but also the specific items checked by the inspectors.
Some landlords complain that the inspections are subjective, with no clear delineation between a minor problem and a code violation. They recently pushed for a list of inspection items, but the checklist they got included items like “windows,” with no description of what window-related items would be grounds for failing an inspection.
Some landlords also said that inspectors are harder on some people than others and treat some people unfairly.
But, Green said, SLIC can’t complain about inspections when members of the group are breaking the inspection law altogether.
“I think that if we are in compliance as a group, then when a violation comes up that doesn’t seem to be quite supported [by evidence], we will have an opportunity to talk with [Building Inspection Eric] Shilling, with the other code enforcers, and have that violation removed,” she said. “They’re not going to be as receptive to you as if you had been in compliance.”
She added that they should just do it.
“You may not love it. You do it because you need to do it,” she said. “This is just a cost of business that is going to have to be absorbed.”
Some landlords spoke up in support, saying that they have had no trouble with their inspections when they treated the inspectors with respect.
But one landlord objected, saying that he was stymied when he went to City Hall to ask for an inspection.
He was told he had to provide proof of property insurance, a requirement he balked at because, he said, it wasn’t a state law.
Green told him it was a city law to prevent “another rotting building” abandoned by its owners after a fire.
He was not persuaded.
Landlord Mitch Goldstein urged the group to record every inspection with their cellphones. That, he said, could help the landlords prove their case against inspections.
“Just as inspectors require landlords comply with their demands, SLIC suggests all inspectors be held to high standards,” he said.
He asked landlords to upload their audio recordings to a SLIC website (currently under development) so that SLIC could compile evidence proving that inspections were capricious and subjective.