Schenectady rental certificate changes please some landlords
Updated 10:58 p.m.
SCHENECTADY The city continues to press its proposed rental certificate ordinance and is making a little progress selling the idea to landlords, who face significantly higher fees under the plan.
The proposal may cost more, but it would be less onerous to big landlords, Assistant Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico told the City Council on Tuesday.
He explained that the ordinance would allow landlords to do their own minor plumbing and electrical work — although they would still be required to get a permit. They would not have to hire a licensed professional, which Falotico said would yield a significant savings.
Landlords were thrilled with that announcement. Five members of the Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change group attended Tuesday’s meeting to hear about the proposal.
Falotico also said the new apartment inspection policy would be more efficient — although it might be more expensive, too. The proposed policy would be to inspect larger apartment buildings — with six or more units — only once a year. Also, the landlord would not have to have every unit inspected, only common areas and 10 percent of the units.
But the cost would be $250 per building, as well as a $25 charge for each unit. Falotico explained that rule meant the charge would be levied for every unit beyond the first five — so inspections of a six-unit building would cost $275.
That’s much more than the current $50-per-unit inspection fee, but Falotico said some landlords would see a savings. They are charged for an inspection every time a tenant moves out. If every tenant in a six-unit building moved out in one year, the inspection fee would be $300 under the current law. It would $275 under the proposal.
“You start saving a little money,” Falotico said.
Landlords have said the proposal disproportionately punishes those who take care of their buildings — because those tenants are unlikely to move out.
Property manager Chris Morris, who founded SLIC, said it’s rare for one tenant to move out of the 12 units at her apartment complex, so her costs will jump from about $50 a year to $550. Still, it’s less than she initially thought, based on the proposal summary. The summary also didn’t mention the change regarding plumbing and electrical work.
“We heard more than we expected,” she said after the meeting.
She said she’s pleased landlords will be able to do their own small plumbing and electrical work.
“Now it would be advantageous for us to really know how to do things,” she said. “I don’t know how to do GFI [electrical outlets]. Now, I will be learning.”
Falotico also said the yearly inspection would resolve one complaint from landlords: that they must bear the costs of having an agent present to unlock each apartment for each inspection. Doing one inspection a year would be far more efficient than six.
“We’re not making them go through the process of getting an inspection for every single unit,” Falotico said.
Morris agreed it sounded more efficient, but only for landlords of very large complexes.
“I’m thinking that most of the people in our ranks are the little guys,” she said. “In our two buildings, there are 12 people total. This is not big money here. Any additional taxation ... it does feel so burdensome.”
Falotico disagreed, saying landlords would object to any fee.
“If I had thrown out a price of half that, they would have objected,” he said, adding they’ll save hundreds of dollars on plumbers and electricians. “Any increase the landlords see based on this, they will more than make up the cost.”
Morris still thinks inspectors would be wasting their time by inspecting her complex every year. She is advocating for a “preferred properties” system, in which properties that regularly pass inspection are allowed to have less-frequent inspections or are inspected at a lower cost.
“Right here, I don’t see the need for coming by every year,” she said.
Falotico said she might be right — most landlords with unsafe or uninhabitable apartments own small properties.
“Two units, three units are more problematic,” he said. “When you get to a certain size, you get there generally because you’re doing the right stuff.”
In other business, Mayor Gary McCarthy hired a new finance commissioner to replace Ismat Alam, who is now working for Proctors.
He hired a Schenectady resident, Deborah DeGenova, an assistant director in the state Comptroller’s Office who oversees the Bureau of Debt Management.
She will be paid $96,000, the same salary as Alam, but McCarthy also offered her a one-time, $4,000 hiring bonus. The amount persuaded her to give up unused sick time she accumulated in decades working for the state, McCarthy said.
“She’s giving up a substantial amount of money,” he said. “This is a token offer — it’s pennies on the dollar.”
She will start Feb. 4.