OSWEGO, NY – At Monday night’s Planning and Development Committee meeting, Mayor William Barlow requested discussion regarding an amendment to Chapter 149, Housing Standards, of the Code of the City of Oswego, NY, Section 149-6, Reference to Construction Code and Other Laws.
A few people took to the microphone to discuss the mayor’s proposal to increase rental permit fees. This resolution was part of the agenda for the Administrative Services Committee.
The Planning and Development Committee gave a favorable recommendation to the mayor’s proposal to amend Chapter 149 Housing Standards of the Code of the city of Oswego – section 6 – to read: Installation, alterations and repair to residential premises, and materials, assemblies and equipment utilized in connection therewith shall be reasonably safe to persons and property and in conformity with applicable statutes of the state of New York including, but not limited to, the New York State Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code in accordance with Title 19 of the New York Codes, Rules and Regulations, Part 1203 and amendments thereto, and the city of Oswego and orders, rules and regulations issued by authority thereof.
A public hearing, if approved by the full council, will be held at 7:10 p.m. Oct. 11 in the Council Chamber of City Hall.
This is one of many code law amendments that will be coming before the committee and council,” the mayor said.
This addresses the city’s ability to better prosecute code cases in court, the mayor said of Monday’s proposal.
At the following committee, there was a lengthy debate over the merits of the mayor’s plan to increase the rental permit fee.
Barlow proposes increasing the rental permit fee in the city of Oswego to $150 for a three-year period, five times more expensive than the current $30 fee.
“The higher fee will not create better clients. I think that you need to hit the slum landlords with fines, steep fines,” local businesswoman and a landlord Deborah Engelke said. “I think you need to close them down. I don’t understand increasing the rate without increasing enforcement.”
City resident Miles Becker related what some landlords asked him, “Why do we have to make up for the ones who don’t pay attention to the rules?”
“They’re footing the bill for these people who don’t,” he added. “What are you going to do? Are you going to let some get away with it and some not?”
“We found that the best way to get compliance is to literally hit landlords in their pocket,” Mayor Barlow said. “We are going to these places that are uninhabitable and literally doing an inspection and taking the tenants and moving them out.”
Even the tenants that have been displaced have been thankful, he pointed out.
“It’s not just one landlord. It’s not just five landlords. You can all probably point to at least five properties in your ward,” the mayor told the councilors.
Barlow said he is working with the college, through Student Association, to help students find quality apartments to rent.
The city is doing more inspections now than it ever has, the mayor added.
Raymond Engelke said the new fee cost won’t help things, and might make things worse.
If a landlord has to pay more for rental permits, he might be less inclined to spend more money to make any repairs, he said.
“The landlords are going to start charging higher rents. I’m sure a lot of them will start charging $10 a month more or, $15 more a month citing this increase,” he told the councilors. “This isn’t going to help anybody, except put money in the city’s pocket two months after you did the budget. If you needed the money, it should have been in the budget in the first place.”
According to the mayor, last year, from March 7 to Sept. 7, the city responded to 277 (code) complaints; 570 documented violations; issued a combined total of 152 building and rental permits. That same time frame in 2016, with the new code office, 1,106 complaints; 1,395 violations; issued 412 rental permits; and 547 combined permits.
“We’re making a difference,” he added. “We’re taking care of issues in the wards. In some cases, vacating properties that are so bad. There are some good landlords, there are some bad landlords.”
The landlords need to “start paying their fair share” and start contributing to the code enforcement department, the mayor said.
The problem properties take up a lot of city resources, the mayor said.
“When you take (landlords) to court it is exhausting for the Code Office. We simply do not have the manpower or time to take enough of these landlords to court to make a difference in the community. That is why we’re changing our strategy, changing our code,” the mayor explained.
If they only fine the bad landlords, it isn’t enough to support the department, the mayor said.
Assistant City Attorney Tom Reynolds pointed out that the fee is currently $30; the overall cost for the city to process the permits is more than double that.
The taxpayers shouldn’t have to subsidize that anymore, Barlow said.
The mayor pointed out some other examples, such as to launch a boat at the marina is $100 and to rent the Breitbeck Park pavilion is $75.
The quality of life is being destroyed in many Port City neighborhoods due to slumlords, the mayor said, adding, “Enough is enough.”
Hiking the fee isn’t going to make the bad landlords better, Raymond Engelke reiterated. The city should fix what’s broken and not burden all landlords, he said.
Council president Shawn Walker noted that some comparable cities charge less than Oswego – with some not charging anything.
“I think (the proposal) is a little bit high, personally,” he said, adding that perhaps the committee could find some sort of compromise.
The committee took no action on the matter Monday night. It will return for further discussion at a later date.
Seventh Ward Councilor Robert Corradino pointed out that he is a landlord. As chair of the Administrative Services Committee, he said he would preside over the meetings and take part in any committee (and council) debate regarding the fee hike proposal. However, he said he would abstain from voting.