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May 28, 2013 - 11:15pm

Landlords object to idea of fining property owners for nuisance tenants

posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, neighborhood improvement.

About a dozen local landlords showed up at City Hall on Monday night for a City Council discussion about a possible local law that could mean fines for frequent police calls to local rentals.

Four of the landlords spoke during public comments against the idea, including Richard Siebert, James Pontillo and Thomas Mazerbo (pictured above).

Siebert said Batavia has gained a reputation for being a city that's very unfriendly to landlords, which drives down the value of rental properties and hurts the ability of the city to raise assessments.

He also said the subsidized housing complexes run by the city attracts all the good tenants, making it harder for landlords to attract the better tenants.

He also complained about police inaction when complaints are lodged about some residents.

"Let's talk about Lewis Place," Siebert said. "I have an apartment building down there and I've called city police when tenants have told me about drug deals and fights going on and they tell me, 'if you didn't see it personally, we can't do anything about it.' The city can clean it up. Put some undercover agents down there. Go in and clean it up."

Mazerbo said that it's very hard to get bad tenants evicted and if you succeed, they often trash the place and then city code officers give a landlord only 48 hours to clean things up. He said landlords should be given 10 to 30 days in those circumstances.

One version of the law under discussion was passed in the Town of Niagara and Mazerbo said, "I don't care about the Town of Niagara. That's over there. Something has got to be done here."

James Pontillo said the city is once again trying to turn the landlord into the bad guy.

"We're the ones investing in Batavia," Pontillo said. "We're the ones taking down a run down property and investing in it. I don't like being called a slumlord. I find it offensive. What we're doing with our money is -- rather than investing in gold or silver, we're investing in Batavia."

One of Pontillo's frustrations is that the police won't arrest former tenants for criminal mischief when they purposefully cause $5,000 in damage to a property once they know they're evicted.

Councilman Kris Doeringer took issue with the notion that landlords aren't responsible for the conduct of their tenants.

"You're the ones who rent to them," Doeringer said. "This is your business. You rent to them. Nobody made you. Today, nobody holds you accountable. That's not to say I'm unsympathetic to the investment you make in the community ... but there is a responsibility you have there somewhere and to put it all back on the city is not correct."

During his remarks, local residential property owners Jeremy Yasses and Terry Platt left the room, though Platt returned.

Brooks Hawley (inset photo) said his concern about this issue began while he was campaigning, walking precincts. The number one issue brought up by residents, Hawley said, was misbehaving tenants.

City Manager Jason Molino, Hawley said, asked that addressing the issue be held off until after the budget was approved. Once it was, Hawley, Molino and Pier Cipollone met to discuss options.

In researching options, Molino found laws in Cheektowaga and Niagara that hold landlords accountable for excessive complaints about the conduct of tenants.

According to Hawley, the laws in those other jurisdictions are meant as discussion starters about how to address the problem in Batavia. He said he's looking for something that holds tenants accountable and puts some responsibility on landlords for how their properties effect their neighborhoods.

There was no action taken by the council Monday, and though Cipollone suggested forming a committee that would include council members and landlords to study the issue, no firm plan was put in place.

Molino said it's a very complex issue and no single law is going to necessarily bring about neighborhood revitalization.

"It comes back to the root of the issue," Molino said. "If the tenants don't care about the neighborhood, you can't make them care. If the neighbors want to have their community back, they will have to take their neighborhoods back. You can't use code enforcement and you can't use police enforcement to force people to take back their neighborhoods."

Councilman John Canale called the idea of fining landlords for tenant behavior "absurd."

"I'll never support any talk like that," Canale said. "We talking about asking landlords to become the police and we already have a police department."

carl hyde
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Landlords need to screen there renters better. If you take in people to your property you are responsible because it's YOUR decision as a landlord to rent to them. Just as they are responsible for there actions. If your renting for a sure check from the state or government and not properly screening tenants then you as a landlord have issues and should be fined.

Phil Ricci
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So Carl,

Let's say a landlord does that , comes back clean and their tenant ends up selling drugs. Whose fault is it then?

Paula Ferraro
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Phil's got it.... as a prior landlord I rented to a corrections officer without any history of negative behavior or financial difficulty. Everything went great for about a year. The CO went on disability. Soon the rent was late, then later, then not at all. The eviction process was ridiculous. By the time they left, there had been more than one arrest for drugs and I was out 4 months rent (3 from them and 1 for the time it took me to clean and repair the mess they left). Landlords are not psychics. How would I have ever known there was a risk from this individual? I took a financial beating on that property. I can't imagine being held responsible for tenant actions I could have never foreseen. I find it ironic that very property is listed in the "law and order" section today. I wonder how many of the people that are in favor of this type of law have ever been a landlord.

Robert Brown
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OK, let's go to the extreme, if your child grows up to be a serial killer, YOU are by default responsible because you brought him/her into the world. And therefore, government sayeth though shalt pay a fine!

But wait, maybe government wants to force landlords to do specific background checks on tenants, or maybe use a government service to do the checks. Then why not have the government do parent screening to prevent even the remote possibility of irresponsible people being born?

Come on! If landlords are renting to irresponsible people and our wonderful multi-million dollar local (and multi-billion dollar state and multi-trillion dollar national) system says such people are allowed to live freely in society, then they have to live somewhere. It is not the landlords' fault, unless the landlord is of course engaged in their illegal activity.

As long as the landlord is taking all appropriate legal measures to ensure his/her property is well kept and is reporting all tenant illegal activities to law enforcement then hasn't the landlord met society's obligations? There's no amount of licensing or fining of the landlord that can reasonably affect tenant behavior. Landlords are responsible for their property, people are responsible for their own actions. There are plenty of laws covering both.

The best idea for "citizens taking back their neighborhoods" was stated in the initial thread: punishment for repeated criminal behavior should include community service in their neighborhood. Clean it, repair it, paint it, landscape it, etc... Put the hours in as part of your punishment and you'll not only be discouraged from trashing it but will also not appreciate others trashing it. For any of that to happen, law enforcement needs to be consistent and responsive to bona fide citizen and landlord complaints.

Julie A Pappalardo
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Can I just say that one of the "City People" proposing this colossally stupid idea TRASHED one of my relatives apartments...Oh, the Irony is killing me right now! (I am sure the person in question KNOWS who they are too....yes...YOU!!!)

I screen ALL of my tenants and run credit checks. I have been VERY lucky as of late with my folks. That being said, I had a tenant for a year who didn't give me a lick of trouble.........until........she started dating some new guy and made some BAD choices. I got rid of her as soon as I could because the TENANTS HAVE MORE RIGHTS THAN THE LANDLORDS and it is HARD to get rid of them !!! It cost me a fortune to fix the place up again (of course SHE has no $$)

Part of the problem here is also the "tenant pool" here...It's not like people are banging down the door to move to and/or invest in Batavia NY people.

I said in a prior comment in the story about Terry Platt divesting and I will say it again:

This City should be doing the happy dance that ANYONE wants to through their $$$ at Batavia!!! You should be HELPING the Landlords, not FIGHTING them and chasing them (and their investment $$) out of town.

Jeremy and Terry etc, sorry i couldn't be there tonight, this all went down while i was traveling!

::::::::I am just going to sit here and await all the trolling garbage trucks now::::::::

Timothy Walton
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Hold tenant responsible:
1.) John Doe gets arrested a few times.
2.) Jon Doe gets fined, and feels the financial burden.
3.) Jon thinks twice before he acts next time.

Hold landlord responsible:
1). Jane Doe gets arrested a few times
2). Landlord gets fined, Jane won't care and won't change.
3). Jane gets evicted (after a pain in the a** process for the landlord).
4). Jane has no reason to change, finds a new place to live.
5.) Repeat all steps again.

They have to live somewhere and their problems will follow until they are held responsible.

Its as crazy as saying you expect a child to not ignore doing his homework because the teacher made his mom sit in detention.

Bob Harker
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Just ducky. More government intrusion into "private" enterprise and "private" lives.

John Roach
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A landlord has no initial control over a renter. As mentioned, if a person sells drugs out of the rental unit, that is not the landlords fault.

But, if the police are called 3-4 times a week for problems at a unit for things like loud noise at night, then the landlord either takes action, or gets fined after being warned by the City.

Also pointed out last night, Social Services has to get on board if the problem renter is on assistance. If the renter is a problem, SS has to cut the money flow. That was said last night to work.

Dick Siebert made a good point on subsidized housing. Units like 400 Towers and Washington Towers have taken the "best" tenets. That is not a new complaint, landlords have said it for decades. It's a case of a good idea that unintended results.

Howard B. Owens
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John, I took him to mean:

The Pines at 4 MacArthur Drive
Edward Court at 15 Edward Street
The Terraces at 193 South Main Street

Mary E DelPlato
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Ansolutely absurd!

Thomas Mooney
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Jason Molino should resign if he thinks its the neighbors are the ones to do the jobs of the police and code officers.

We all know where the problem rentals are . We all know where the drug deals go down , so why doesn't the police . We call and report it but nothing happens .

Park the police car right in the middle of it and do speed patrol . Ya ,you might not get a bust but you made the neighborhood better by your presence and the dealers move on . If you get to them to move on enough times then they will go back to Rochester and Buffalo .

Swan St. around the Polish Falcons is the new gang outlet , dealing going down on the street with 20 plus cars pulling up for a quick grab at the curb .

Well see how long this goes on for , usually takes a year for anything with substance to happen unless your white and not in a gang then it will be instant .

There is a fear factor with police in this town about gangs and color ,it seems the police tend to shy away from dangerous individuals and be hard core on the less dangerous ones .

Not a good approach considering that this only fuels the gang population in the city .

Yes , there are gangs here and they operate out of rentals . Identify those individuals and get rid of them .

Thomas Mooney
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Mr. Seibert , Do you realize that the same landlords keep coming up in question . It seems to me it is the landlord when the same addresses have the same problems over and over again . There are plenty of good landlords that have no issues , that is what we are striving for. Get rid of the bad landlords no matter how much they invest , the good ones will be there to take up the slack .

jenny warner
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I personally love taking a walk with my kids and seeing the local rental piled up with garbage and what really adds flair is the couch cushion on the steps that keeps them from getting a sore bumb while they smoke all day, it gives me quite a self esteem boost LOL.

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