The Town of Saugerties is developing a property maintenance law to make it easier to deal with derelict properties, unsightly conditions or poor maintenance in cases where property owners neglect to maintain their property.
“The prior attempt to get a property maintenance code years ago was not successful,” town councilwoman Leeanne Thornton said at a public hearing for an updated property maintenance law on Wednesday, June 16. She explained that about two years ago, a committee started working on upgrading the law using the International Property Maintenance Code, which is basically the state code. And when town councilman Mr. Ivino came on board as liaison to the building department, he met with code enforcement officer Alvah Weeks and others to iron out some of the objections, and the result was the law discussed at last week’s hearing.
Christine Aiello said she approached the Town Board with her concerns about property maintenance and vehicle violations she saw on her walks around the Barclay Heights area. After bringing her concerns to the Town Board, she met with them and the building inspector. Weeks told her at the time that he did not have the manpower to consistently enforce the law. “If a citizen reported a violation to his office, then an employee would go out and investigate the issue,” he said.
Aiello was concerned about the disparity between the village and town laws. She said that in today’s high-priced real-estate market, buyers want to see strict municipal property laws.
If there is not enough staff in the building department to enforce the law, “somebody has to be hired to assist,” Aiello said.
Samantha “Sam” Dederick said she has a different take on the law. While it may make sense in a heavily populated area, like a village, “I believe it promotes nitpicky little things that could cause my neighbors to complain; that’s very unfriendly.”
While Dederick does not see any big things wrong with the law, “I do have a problem with the time limit; it says you could mail a letter and within ten days you could have a public hearing and take down someone’s house and charge it to their taxes. I’m not even sure this is legal. You couldn’t get a contractor to call you back within five days.”
Dederick said her biggest problem is the requirement that driveways be covered with stone, gravel, concrete or asphalt. “You should not be promoting concrete or asphalt, it’s environmentally unsound,” she told the board. She wants to have good relations with her neighbors — rich or poor, “and I think this law really goes against poor people,” she said.
Jim Whetzel also criticized the driveway paving requirement and the five-day deadline for fixing violations. His most scathing criticism was for the imposition of a $1,000 fine or five days in jail, which he said is “outrageous.” The law could certainly discourage possible purchasers who might want to rehabilitate property, he concluded.
“We’re trying to find a better way to work with the community,” Weeks said. He denied that only five days were allowed to fix a violation. Under state law, once the building inspector issues an order to remedy, the homeowner has 30 days to fix the violation. “If you do not come into full compliance [with the law], we are mandated to give you an appearance ticket and take you to court.” While he said he is sure Sheriff Juan Figueroa doesn’t want people in jail because of property maintenance issues, “this is what the state has mandated.”
The law does allow a $1,000 fine and/or five days in jail for not following an order from the code enforcement officer, Weeks said. “But this is what we want to avoid.”
Robert Dederick said the law is not the answer. The law makes sense for such heavily populated areas as Barclay Heights or Glasco, but not for the less densely populated rural areas, he said.
Weeks responded that the state law prohibits more than one unregistered vehicle on a property. The town cannot pass a law that is less strict than state law, he said.
He explained that before issuing an order to remedy a violation, the building department sends a letter noting the violation and asking the homeowner to fix it. Only if nothing is done to remedy the violation is a formal notice of violation issued.
Councilman Ivino said he is not sure how the five-day requirement ended up in the law, but that it will certainly be revised. In general, no one is advocating for a building inspector driving around looking for problems. “But if there is an issue, we have the ability to act on it,” he said.
Assistant building inspector Kevin Brown added up the time a violation could exist without being fixed and it could come to 120 days or more. “At this point, the neighbors on either side of this property are not happy, whether it’s a car or garbage pile to the roof,” said Brown. “That’s why this law is coming into effect.”
The law was motivated by “exceptional circumstances that we all know are incorrect,” Supervisor Fred Costello said. Some properties are unsightly or unhealthy, “and the tool box that’s currently available to the building department doesn’t have the depth to resolve those issues in a meaningful way.”
The board agreed to review the comments and make changes in the law where warranted.