A few years ago, winning a code-violations case against a landlord wasn’t easy for Schenectady.
Cases got tossed out for lack of evidence and even for violations of law when code enforcers overstepped in their efforts to get evidence.
But those days are no longer. In the past 15 months, the city has won 150 cases.
In each case, the owner eventually came “into full compliance” with the city codes, Deputy Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico said.
“I’m happy,” he said of the sudden increase in successful prosecutions. “But there’s a lot more work to do. We have a number of cases still pending.”
Many cases from last fall are pending because owners argued they couldn’t do the work over the winter.
“As the weather gets nice, that’s when they would be expected to come into compliance,” Falotico said.
The effort began with a change in leadership in the codes department. New Building Inspector Eric Shilling said it was quickly clear that the department needed to talk to the law department more often.
“We’ve opened up communication,” he said, adding that his officers now know exactly what the prosecutors need to win their cases — and how to get that information legally.
“We are very much more comprehensive about our information-gathering in the field,” he said.
Officers now document every inspection, every meeting and conversation with owners, and every attempt they make to get the code violations resolved before going to court.
That helps create a rock-solid case that can’t be dismissed or adjourned for months to give the owner “more time,” Shilling said.
“There were a lot of gaps there that we’ve been able to eliminate,” he said.
And now the code enforcers are seeing the “fruits of their labor,” he said, as building after building gets repaired.
Falotico said many owners repaired their buildings, but many others decided they could not afford the number of buildings they owned and chose to sell some.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said either choice was laudable.
“We want people to be responsible property owners,” he said. “People have to approach things rationally. You have to manage what you own.”
When prosecution fails, the last step can be foreclosure in cases where the owner has either abandoned the property or refuses to pay taxes on it.
Shilling is particularly proud of a once-difficult situation at 151 Lafayette St.
There were code violations and improper licenses for businesses there, he said. Eventually the city took the building through foreclosure and sold it. The new owner is repairing the building and has leased it out to several businesses.
“Now we have a very positive development there,” Shilling said. “It’s now turning out to be a very positive outcome.”