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Foss: Ordered to leave, by the city of Schenectady

Foss: Ordered to leave, by the city of Schenectady

Foss: Ordered to leave, by the city of Schenectady
Jessica Deas has until Oct. 7 to leave her apartment on Congress Street.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER

The letter is short, simple and to-the-point. 

It informs tenants that they must leave their place of residence, or face ejection by the Schenectady County Sheriff's Department.

What makes the notification especially jarring is that the people who received it haven't done anything to merit losing their homes.

They aren't in trouble with their landlords for non-payment of rent or misbehavior.

They just happen to live in one of the roughly 90 properties that the city of Schenectady took possession of in August as a result of the prior owners' failure to pay property taxes.

The letters went out in mid-September and gave the recipients until Oct. 7 -- Monday -- to vacate the premises. Those who fail to do so could have a warrant issued for their eviction. 

It's a harsh outcome for people who are typically victims of their landlord's negligence. 

Jessica Deas is one of those people. 

The Schenectady resident is up to date on her rent, but her landlord's failure to pay taxes and subsequent loss of property to foreclosure leaves her scrambling to find housing. 

"I've got three more days," Deas said, when I spoke with her on Friday. 

In an ideal world, landlords would inform their tenants of changes in ownership.

But Deas' landlord – Union Street-based Prime Property Protection, LLC – didn't do that. 

She said she only learned that her landlord had lost the Congress Street property to the city when the letter from the city Corporation Counsel's Office arrived on Sept. 21.  

"The letter says that the [city acquired the property on Aug. 27], so how come I'm only getting this letter on Sept. 21?" wondered Deas, who has lived at the Congress Street property since April and was homeless prior to that. 

Deas has a point. 

The abrupt notification doesn't give her a lot of time to find new housing, although she indicated that she does have a place to go.

As for her landlord, he clearly wasn't using his rental income to pay his property taxes. He owed $130,287 on 902 Congress St. 

Carl Falotico, the city's Corporation Counsel, told me that it would be difficult to mail the letters to building occupants out much earlier. 

He said that a state Supreme Court judge reviews the foreclosures and issues an order saying the city can have title to the properties. City staff then looks at the buildings and determines which ones are occupied. Letters are then sent to those units. It's a tight frame, in part because the city is pushing to get tenants out before cold weather sets in. 

"We can't do it much faster," Falotico said. 

The city doesn't send letters to vacant lots or places that are known to be unoccupied. An example of the latter is the block of Summit Avenue that the city of Schenectady took possession of earlier this year – 11 parcels on a single street. 

The letter from the city includes a list of service providers and agencies that tenants can contact for assistance in securing new homes, which is helpful. 

A staff member at one local service provider told me her agency has assisted at least eight households that were ordered to vacate properties now owned by the city. 

"We're not owning these properties because we want them," Falotico said. "We don't want to be a landlord." 

Which is understandable. 

The city lacks the infrastructure to deal with tenants, rental payments and the basic upkeep that goes into maintaining a rental property. Allowing tenants to remain in foreclosed properties would likely lead to headaches. 

The upheaval that Dees and others in her predicament now find themselves in is just another unfortunate consequence of the city's ongoing battles with blight and irresponsible property owners. 

Here's hoping they find better housing, and landlords who won't hang them out to dry. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.  

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