Schenectady landlords can't have it all their way with contracts
The relationship between landlords and tenants is often a complex one. It can be filled with respect and mutual understanding, or conflict and contention. Most of the time, it's probably somewhere in between.
I was a renter in the city of Schenectady for nearly eight years. Throughout that time, I encountered different types of landlords, lease agreements and, of course, fellow renters.
So I understand where the Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change group is coming from with its work on a new standard lease, but I believe some of the rules they've proposed will only create more problems between landlords and tenants.
Gazette reporter Kathleen Moore broke news a couple of weeks ago on SLIC's aim of developing and implementing a new standard lease for all city landlords to adopt, and I couldn't help but walk away with one impression: greed.
SLIC and its organizer, Chris Morris, admittedly are attempting to get away with as much as possible, but yet claim at the same time that "clear rules are the bedrock of a good tenant-landlord relationship." Talk about irony.
That being said, I'm not an attorney, so I would rather not speak in certainties regarding the questionable legality of some of the new rules. However, those interested in doing their own homework can find everything they need in Article 7 of the New York State Real Property Law, which covers the rights of both landlords and tenants.
Furthermore, the attorney general's office has provided a Tenants' Rights Guide that explains the laws tenants need to know. You will find a lot of specificity, but also some discretionary items that fall into grey areas.
What is clear, though, is that most of these new rules SLIC has proposed seem to rely on the ignorance and/or desperation of tenants.
After all, what kind of tenant would willingly and knowingly sign a lease that demands their credit card information, including three-digit security code? Far too many risks outweigh this "self-protection measure."
Not to mention, who would agree to a lease that restricts you from exiting the agreement if your apartment is not ready on time? In fact, according to SLIC, 30 days would have to transpire before you would be able to finally break the lease. This rule ensures the landlord gets paid no matter what and leaves the renter high and dry.
Here, let me reiterate that I understand SLIC's intentions. However, the group seems to be trying to create rules that penalize tenants right off the bat in order to pre-emptively avoid drawn-out eviction court hearings and other litigation in which landlords try to recoup monies owed by former tenants. This is going about matters the wrong way, pure and simple.
Reasonable and pragmatic people understand that compromise is necessary in order to obtain or retain tranquility. And while I would never claim the landlord-tenant relationship is one of peace and harmony, the end goal should be to get as close to it as possible.
That's not to say some rules within a rental agreement shouldn't be strict and shouldn't look out for the best interest of the landlord. Having been a renter and also having friends that are both renters and landlords, I know the hardships some landlords are put through by their tenants. Landlords must protect themselves against unruly tenants who miss rent payments, cause damage to rental property and create uncontrollable disturbances.
Some might say that is the nature of the beast, but just because a landlord might rent out an apartment in a not-so-nice neighborhood, doesn't mean the landlord-tenant relationship should automatically suffer as a result.
Unfortunately this can be the case, especially in Schenectady, which means landlords need to find ways, predominantly through the lease agreement, to look out for their own well being.
Yet, if members of SLIC really want to protect themselves, while still showing they care about tenants, then they first need to respect tenants.
This will require the group to reach out to Deborah Rembert and her tenant group, Schenectady Tenants Association Meeting Program, for collaboration.
In fact, STAMP is holding a meeting on Sept. 19 at the Schenectady County Public Library, and I suggest SLIC send its members and attorney to it.
There's been a lot of news in recent months involving Schenectady's scofflaw landlords and the bitter battle landlords have been in with the city over rental inspections and certificates. It has had the unfortunate effect of grouping all city landlords, good and bad, together and placing them in a negative light.
If SLIC would be willing to work together with STAMP to create an equitable standard lease that protects both landlords and tenants, then everyone wins and we can all read some good news for a change.
Of course both sides won't get everything they want, and I'm sure that arguments will occur over certain rules.
But that is to be expected when both parties are passionate about protecting their rights.
So, SLIC: Extend an olive branch to STAMP and stop trying to stick it to tenants with these new rules. Instead, start from scratch and create a standard lease together that both sides can be proud of.
Robert Caracciolo lives in Schenectady and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.