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City releases plan for nuisance properties, absentee landlords – Democrat & Chronicle

City releases plan for nuisance properties, absentee landlords

by: Briank Sharp

Efforts aimed at increasing landlord accountability are at the center of a renewed city effort to crack down on unkept or unruly properties.

Mayor Lovely Warren and City Council member Jackie Ortiz outlined the latest actions during a news conference Wednesday at City Hall.

Efforts aimed at increasing landlord accountability are at the center of a renewed city effort to crack down on unkept or unruly properties.

Mayor Lovely Warren and City Council member Jackie Ortiz outlined the latest actions during a news conference Wednesday at City Hall.

Landlords could soon be required to provide publicly-available contact information. And the city has bolstered its efforts to publicize code violations and enforcement actions online.

The toughest actions might still be to come. But a court case out of Tompkins County has put those measures on hold, for now.

Rochester’s nuisance abatement program dates at least to 1985. It was overhauled in the mid- to late-1990s, when officials amended city code to specify 35 nuisance categories, created a point system and established thresholds for action; the ultimate penalty being closure.

Enforcement has varied, including an effort to tighten regulation of corner stores that the city dismantled after portions of the law were struck down in courts and by the state.

Last year, the city began a full program review, with help from the consultant firm of former Mayor William A. Johnson Jr. A final report delivered in June suggests changing how and what violations are counted and opens the door to penalizing tenants and lessees.

 The latest snag comes from a June decision of the New York state Supreme Court’s appellate division, striking down the nuisance abatement laws in the village of Groton, Tompkins County. In a separate case before the state Supreme Court challenging Rochester’s program, city officials have been asked to respond to how the Groton ruling affects matters here.

“We don’t want to put some (added) step in place and have it ruled unconstitutional,” Warren said.

For now, the city might bolster a landlord registry already requiring building owners to provide the city with contact information to also require a business phone for either themselves or a local property manager that can be accessible to neighbors.

City Council will consider legislation on that matter later this month.

“We have heard too many times, ‘I wish I knew what was going on … I wish I knew who to call'” about a problem property, Ortiz said, noting that the use of LLCs and PO boxes often shield landlords’ identities from public view. “Although logistically (this is) a simple change, I believe it will be a powerful one.”

The city also began posting code violation information to the property portal of its website last year and recently nuisance data and created a “Nuisance Points Map” to highlight chronic offenders throughout the city.

The toughest actions might still be to come. But a court case out of Tompkins County has put those measures on hold, for now.

Rochester’s nuisance abatement program dates at least to 1985. It was overhauled in the mid- to late-1990s, when officials amended city code to specify 35 nuisance categories, created a point system and established thresholds for action; the ultimate penalty being closure.

Enforcement has varied, including an effort to tighten regulation of corner stores that the city dismantled after portions of the law were struck down in courts and by the state.

Last year, the city began a full program review, with help from the consultant firm of former Mayor William A. Johnson Jr. A final report delivered in June suggests changing how and what violations are counted and opens the door to penalizing tenants and lessees.

 The latest snag comes from a June decision of the New York state Supreme Court’s appellate division, striking down the nuisance abatement laws in the village of Groton, Tompkins County. In a separate case before the state Supreme Court challenging Rochester’s program, city officials have been asked to respond to how the Groton ruling affects matters here.

“We don’t want to put some (added) step in place and have it ruled unconstitutional,” Warren said.

For now, the city might bolster a landlord registry already requiring building owners to provide the city with contact information to also require a business phone for either themselves or a local property manager that can be accessible to neighbors.

City Council will consider legislation on that matter later this month.

“We have heard too many times, ‘I wish I knew what was going on … I wish I knew who to call'” about a problem property, Ortiz said, noting that the use of LLCs and PO boxes often shield landlords’ identities from public view. “Although logistically (this is) a simple change, I believe it will be a powerful one.”

The city also began posting code violation information to the property portal of its website last year and recently nuisance data and created a “Nuisance Points Map” to highlight chronic offenders throughout the city.

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