You should always listen to your mother — and, usually, your lawyer. Especially when she’s giving you good advice, as Sarah Green, counsel for the organization Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change, did last week regarding the city’s rental inspection system. Her advice: comply, which for decades most landlords in the city have blatantly refused to do.
It’s also important to note what Green didn’t say. Something along the lines of, “As your lawyer, I can’t tell you to break the law, so just comply now and I think we can take this to court and win.”
It was more like her telling them that the city has a right to do this (a state Supreme Court justice has ruled so), and a good reason (protecting the city’s old, fire-prone rental units and the people who live in them). And that by following the law they will make the building inspector and code enforcers more likely to take their concerns and complaints, as individuals and as members of the SLIC, seriously.
The city has tried just about everything to get landlords to comply in the past, from tinkering with the price of inspections (which are supposed to be done every time a tenant moves out, with required repairs made before renting the apartment again) to hefty fines for violations if there has been no inspection. What it hasn’t done is make a sustained enforcement effort, something that, at the urging and direction of Deputy Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico, it seems serious about doing now.
The crackdown that started this year has included city officials going door to door to find occupied apartments and citing the property owner for renting without an inspection, and letters sent to non-complying owners telling them they have 30 days to schedule an inspection or be fined for each apartment they’ve rented without a rental inspection, with penalties and interest accumulating until they pay.
As a result, one owner has been fined $100,000 and another nearly $400,000 — more than enough to get the attention of the roughly 80 percent of owners who have historically refused to participate in the program.
Defiance now comes with a very high price. It’s not worth it. Listen to your lawyer, guys, schedule the inspections, pay the $50 fee and otherwise follow the law.