Making rental inspections work in Schenectady
It’s going to cost the city of Schenectady a fair amount of money — $37,000 plus benefits — to hire someone to enforce its long-ignored rental inspection program, but as long as the hiring results in an increase of roughly 1,000 inspections per year, the income provided by the inspection certificates should offset the cost.
Revenue isn’t the only reason for the city to go this route, though. Maybe not even the best one.
Fewer than one in four landlords currently goes to the trouble and expense of telling the city every time one of his or her apartments becomes vacant and thus needs to be inspected to ensure habitability, as required by law. Consequently, there are a lot of substandard apartments in Schenectady being palmed off on renters who either don’t know any better, don’t care or are afraid to make waves, lest their landlords make life difficult for them.
The city knows it has roughly 10,000 rental units, but is called on to do fewer than 2,200 inspections every year. Certainly not all apartments turn their tenants over as frequently as once a year, but some probably do so more often. The city ran into legal problems with past efforts to verify who was complying with the law and who wasn’t, and Building Inspector Eric Shilling thinks that someone dedicated strictly to this task is the best way to proceed.
OK, but there need to be some performance standards established before the person is hired, and the most important one should be the number of additional inspections the employee will conduct. If nothing else, the number needs to be enough to cover the cost of his or her hiring. At $50 for an initial inspection (and $25 for follow-ups if the first one is a flunk), that would be roughly 1,000 inspections.
Ideally, all rental units would be in compliance, producing plenty of revenue to sustain the program and other code enforcement work beside — and improving the condition of the city’s housing stock to boot. That’s unlikely to happen, but hiring someone whose job is strictly to work on improving compliance with the rental certificate requirement is a step in the right direction.