New Paltz Village mayor Jason West is looking to create more stringent inspections and penalties for both non-owner- and owner-occupied rentals as a way of providing tenants and neighboring property owners greater security. Key highlights in the proposed law include provisions for “owner-occupied” rentals to become licensed and inspected annually, as well as an increase in an inspection violation penalty from $250 to $750. If a landlord has more than six violations in a six-month period, he or she will have his or her license revoked and be responsible for providing temporary housing for the tenants.
“The fines have not been raised since 2002, and yet the rental fees have tripled if not quadrupled,” said Mayor West. “This will not impact our law-abiding landlords, but it will, I hope, serve as a deterrent for some of the unscrupulous landlords that we have, who make money off our renters and yet do not keep their homes and apartments up to code.”
“We need to have penalties that are stringent enough to serve as a deterrent,” he continued. “With approximately 75 percent of our village residents being renters, we cannot tolerate a situation where you make more money breaking the law then you do abiding by it.”
He compared the proposed law to that of being granted a driver’s license, passing vehicular inspection and then abiding by the laws. West said that the Building Department would provide each property owner and tenant (those property owners who rent an entire property or even a portion of their property) with a “checklist that includes all of our current regulations. We’re not adding any new regulations; we’re simply putting them all on one document and giving landlords time before their inspection to ensure that their property is up to code.”
If the new law passes, rather than just paying a $50 no-show fee, landlords will be required to set a date with the building inspector, and if they don’t show up they will not be able to rent. “It’s like when the cable guy is scheduled to come. You need to be there,” West said. If everything is up to snuff, then the landlord is allowed to rent to tenants. If there are violations, he or she will be given an order to remedy within a “reasonable” timeframe based upon the particular violation. After a reinspection is scheduled, if violations were not remedied, then the landlord will be issued an appearance ticket.
“When you’re given a driver’s license, you agree to abide by the laws, are responsible for knowing the laws,” he added. “That’s why, when you’re pulled over for a broken taillight by a police officer, they don’t give you an ‘order to remedy’; they give you a ticket.”
West noted that the courts weigh in at that point. “If you show the judge that you got your taillight fixed the very next day, then he/she will likely take that into account, similar to a code violation that was quickly remedied.”
The proposed law also calls for any and all violations to be kept on file, and if a landlord exceeds a certain amount of violations within a six-month timeframe, his or her license will be revoked and he or she will have to pay for tenants to be relocated. “That sounds harsh, but it would only impact a terrible landlord who has no concern for the people he/she rents to,” said West. “This will not impact the majority of our landlords. But I do remember this first coming up when I was mayor in 2004. A sewer pipe had burst in a rental home, and students literally had raw sewage coming up in their bathtub/shower. The building had to be condemned, and they were forced to pay out of pocket to rent rooms at the Super 8 and walk to campus while the landlord dragged his feet getting the situation fixed. That was due to no fault of their own.”
West also noted that people have a “misperception that all rentals in the village are for college students. Seventy-five percent of our Village population are renters. In my building, with the exception of one renter, everyone is over 30 years of age, up to 60 years of age, and are professionals.”
West worked closely with building inspector Kathy Moniz and new Village planner Curt Lavella on drafting the new law. He then presented the draft to trustees “several months ago, so that they had adequate time to review it and make comments/suggestions/changes.” They had one discussion on the proposed law at their last workshop meeting, and West also provided a draft to the landlord association group, who raised major concerns, so that they could “have time to weigh in, suggest changes, make improvements.” To that end, a committee was formed to make revisions and suggestions to the proposed law, including trustee Ariana Basco, deputy mayor Sally Rhoads, Moniz and several prominent landlords in the Village.
“I think that this law is a very good tool for the Building Department,” said Moniz. “Having a checklist sent out to all landlords and tenants prior to their becoming registered or reregistered lets them know exactly what we expect, and I believe it will cut down on inspection time, increase the quality of life for all Village residents and help provide greater public safety and protection.”
Ben Miller, one of several spokespeople for the Property Owners’ Association, said that they have a very “specific list of serious concerns” regarding the proposed law. “Once we heard about it, we held a meeting, approached the Village Board, with the result being the formation of this committee,” he said. “We’ve met several times, and we want to work with the village government. But in light of some one-sided stories coming out in the press, we want to clarify some things.”
In Miller’s estimation, the articles written by various daily papers suggest “a tone that landlords are only doing the bare minimum to maintain their properties, which is incredibly far from the truth.” He said that he sat down with Moniz and went over the numbers from 2011, and claimed that “there was a 99.7 percent compliance rate. So our question is: Why is there such a huge concern on the government end to address a situation where there is an astoundingly high compliance rate?”
Miller went on to say that in his estimation, “Moniz and her department are doing a wonderful job. If she concludes after an inspection that a property is in compliance, then it is in compliance. If someone sees something, or a tenant has a complaint that a landlord is out of compliance or not addressing something that requires being fixed, then that’s what our Building Department is there for. They need to bring that to the attention of the Building Department. But the vast majority of our landlords will fix something immediately, when brought to their attention.”
The committee has come up with a revised draft that Miller says is “drastically different than the one the mayor presented to us.” He said that he appreciates the “mayor’s patience and flexibility in allowing us to give our input and revise the law based on our concerns. And once we present that to the Board, we hope to have a good dialogue moving forward as this law gets discussed.”
The next committee meeting is not scheduled until Dec. 11. “I wish that the mayor had brought us in earlier in the process; but here we are now, and it is our hope to move forward and work with the Village Board to create a law that helps streamline some things for the Building Department without trampling over property owners’ rights.”
To go to the full proposed law, just log onto the Village of New Paltz website at www.villageofnewpaltz.org.