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What you need to know for 10/19/2017

One less excuse for not complying

One less excuse for not complying

Rental certificate program constitutional, but still not effective

Last week, we welcomed Schenectady’s crackdown on problem corner stores (slow-starting as it was) and urged Mayor Gary McCarthy to keep it up. The same goes for the city’s effort to improve compliance with its rental certificate program.

This should be easier now with a new state Appellate Division decision siding with the city in a challenge by one of its landlords, Andrew Wisoff. The court told him that, no, the city’s rental certificate program isn’t unconstitutional. The program wants voluntary cooperation, but as long as inspectors get a search warrant, they can enter a premises without the owner’s permission.

The program calls for owners of all rental units except single-family and owner-occupied two families to schedule an inspection, at a cost of $50, each time a tenant leaves. It has been largely ignored by landlords, many of whom haven’t registered with the city as required.

As a result, the city doesn’t even know how many rental units it has. About 10,000 is its best guess, but only 2,000 certificates have been issued. That’s a pathetic compliance rate of 20 percent.

And when city inspectors have gotten in to look at the property of a non-participating landlord, they’ve found that 10 percent to 20 percent have so many serious violations they can’t be occupied. For the safety and health of residents, and protection of its housing stock, the city must do better.

And it is trying. This year staff has combed through property and tax records, found what appeared to be rental units and sent out more than 400 letters to owners, inviting them to register their properties and schedule an inspection. Eric Shilling, who has improved the city’s code enforcement effort since taking over as building inspector in 2012, says response has been good. If there is no response, they investigate.

The city needs to send out more letters, take scofflaws to court and otherwise make it clear to participants as well as nonparticipants that it’s serious about getting compliance with this program.

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