FULTON, NY – An additional section of regulations has been unanimously approved by the Fulton Common Council to be added to the city code and charter.
“Article VIIA” will be added to the city code and charter entitled “Non-Owner-Occupied Rental Properties.”
As per the legislative intent, the additional codes were incorporated to ensure rental properties throughout the city will be maintained “in a safe, sanitary, and well-maintained state that is free from conditions that would be hazardous to the health and welfare of the occupants or a detriment to the quality of life or property values of the community.”
The codes were conceived by the Mayor, members of the common council, and administrative assistant to the Mayor, Cathy Trowbridge.
They aim to bring several recurring issues to the forefront including such regulations as matching exterior siding, using curtains to cover windows as opposed to blankets, proper storage of garbage receptacles, and requiring proper parking for occupants with specified driveway materials, among many others.
They target non-owner occupied rental properties in an effort to crack down on negligent landlords, with approval from the New York Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials.
The city’s codes department is complaint driven and follows a particular process.
Mayor Ronald Woodward Sr. explained: first, a complaint is lodged with the codes department.
Second, a code enforcement officer inspects the residence in question and verifies whether the complaint is in violation of the city’s Property Conservation Code, modeled off of New York State’s code.
Then, if a code is found to be in violation, the city sends an “order to remedy” by certified mail.
Each violation of city code has a timeframe to remedy, Woodward explained. Violations involving life safety issues, however, must be attended to immediately.
Finally, the codes department will check to ensure the violation has been resolved after the specified timeframe has lapsed.
However, if the violation is found to have not been rectified, the next step is an accusatory instrument that requires the property owner’s name, age, address, and description which is sent to the Fulton Police Department.
The police send the accusatory instrument to a judge to approve, which is then able to be served to the property owner by local police and gives a notice of court appearance date.
Code court is held once a month and often requires several appearances before resolution, Woodward said.
“This process is called due process of the law and we have to work within the law. It’s much like criminal court. It’s innocent until proven guilty. We can’t change the way court proceedings work, it’s the same throughout New York State,” he said.
Work can become overwhelming at the codes department with only two code enforcement officers. For this reason, a grant secured by Joe Fiumara of the Fulton Community Development Agency will be used to pay the salary of an additional part-time code enforcement officer that is already trained and certified, Woodward said.
Fulton residents have taken the initiative to bring change as a group of concerned citizens have begun regularly attending meetings of the common council and voicing their concerns.
Together, this group of citizens have been traveling the city and making code complaints based on noticeable code violations.
In total, the group targeted 85 rental properties owned by seven landlords and made a total of 345 code violation complaints.
Administrative assistant to the Mayor, Cathy Trowbridge, also a former city councilor, said this is the largest compilation of code complaints since she and a friend turned in over 100 violations.
The new codes are part of an ongoing effort targeting negligent landlords.
Recently, the council passed new laws that allow the city to revoke rental permits of landlords who are in arrears in taxes or city bills and can fine any non-local landlord that does not have a property manager within 25 miles.
The city has revoked rental permits of one landlord based on this law. The case is currently being handled in court.
A resident reminded members of the common council that, although residents are taking matters into their own hands, the responsibility still ultimately falls on city councilors.
“You have to go through your wards, you have to see what’s going on and you have to be proactive, we can’t do it all. I get that it takes time but we’re doing it, you guys have to do it too,” Fulton resident Jean Perry said. “Your feet are to the fire. We’re going to be watching because we want to be proud of our city. You’re either in or you’re out, if you’re not going to going to help us, if you’re not going to do you job, probably you’re not going to be sitting there next year.”
New laws, new codes, and new initiative: the fight for Fulton goes on.