Rental certificate revenues fall short in Schenectady
City hired new housing inspector but has seen no increase in fees paid
SCHENECTADY Building Inspector Eric Shilling’s promises of sky-high revenue from rental certificates have fallen short, the City Council learned Wednesday.
He had hoped to raise $402,000, and the City Council added a housing inspector to help him meet that revenue goal, at a cost of $37,000 in salary plus benefits.
The actual amount of money raised so far was not released, but it was about the same as last year’s $115,000.
He’s projecting to raise $150,000 next year, or $35,000 more than 2012, still not enough to cover the inspector’s salary.
Shilling said getting landlords to cooperate with rental inspections will take years. He is now hoping to get 35 percent of the city’s landlords to comply by the end of next year, up from 20 percent now.
“We really want to push that up in years to come,” he said. “That’s going to keep us busy.”
While inspections will improve the housing stock, he added, it won’t be easy for the department to inspect every apartment in the city.
“It’s going to tax the resources,” he said.
And that might spell an end to the neighborhood code sweeps.
The department does 12 sweeps over the course of the warmer months each year, but Shilling said they aren’t finding serious violations.
Inspectors mostly give out “scrape and paint” notices, he said. But because they spend days on the sweeps and then going back to reinspect, valuable time is consumed in the process.
“It takes an enormous amount of time for low-priority issues,” Shilling said.
“I’d rather focus that activity on high-priority issues.”
He wants to focus on large apartment buildings.
“That’s where your problems are,” he said.
He described one large building in the Stockade neighborhood that had nine blocked exits, creating a hazard to residents in the event of a fire.
Inspectors discovered the situation when a complaint about a different issue brought them to the site.
They left with pages of code violations, Shilling said.
The owner is working with code officers to resolve the problems, he added.
“The fact is that we have thousands of these units that were never addressed,” he said.
Mayor Gary McCarthy added that he is pleased with Shilling’s performance, despite the low rental certificate revenue.
“Eric has really done a great job,” he said. “We’re not stopping. It may take us longer than people would like.”
He added that until revenues increase, he can’t add inspectors to the department.
“Eric would like to staff it at a higher level [but we] have to match it to the resources,” he said.
Shilling noted that inspectors brought in $217,000 in 2012 in vacant building fees, mainly by finding vacant buildings and ordering their owners to pay up.
That work continued this year, he said.
The council will hold a public hearing on the budget at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall. Before the meeting, the council will hold a review session at 5 p.m. to go over part of the general services budget.