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City scraps property maintenance laws

GLOVERSVILLE — The Common Council, on Tuesday after hearing concerns from residents during scheduled public hearings, withdrew a pair of related ordinances that would have allowed for the administrative enforcement of existing property maintenance requirements that currently are subject to harsher penalties for violations as issued by the city code enforcer.

City code already requires lawns, hedges and bushes to be mowed, trimmed and otherwise kept from becoming overgrown. Lawns must be maintained at a height of less than nine inches. Additionally, the exterior portion of properties visible to the public must be kept free of refuse, trash, garbage, rubbish, debris and litter.

The proposed ordinances would have established a new chapter of city code allowing the city’s neighborhood quality administrators to enforce those provisions and expanded the scope of the administrative appeals panel to hear and make determinations on appeals from residents cited under the new chapter for non-compliance.

Under the provisions, any property owner found in violation of the landscaping and visible refuse requirements would have been subject to an administrative fine of $30 issued to the address on file with the city for tax billing purposes via first class mail. If not paid within 65 days, the amount of the administrative fine would increase to $90. If not paid within 90 days, the administrative fine would be added to the property owner’s first subsequent city tax invoice.

During scheduled public hearings on the ordinances, rental property owner Kenneth Myers raised concerns over the ability of landlords to remedy a violation caused by a tenant’s property being left outside in a visible area.

“I received a code violation for the outside exterior because a tenant had material out there, their personal property. I cannot remove that even though the code says that I need to take care of that, New York law says I cannot touch that,” said Myers.

If tenants are unwilling to rectify issues, Myers noted that landlords’ options to pursue legal means to compel tenants to address outstanding violations through the courts are currently limited under federal and state restrictions put in place due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a temporary moratorium on all residential evictions across the country for non-payment of rent due to a loss in income or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and a possible surge in homelessness. That order is currently set to expire on Dec. 31. However, based on the expectation by public health officials that the current health crisis will worsen during the winter, the eviction moratorium could easily be extended.

Rental property owners in the state seeking to have their day in court for issues unrelated to non-payment of rent were sidelined by the temporary closure of courts earlier in the year. As the state Unified Court System began reopening for criminal cases and family court matters in the spring, civil cases were not initially resumed.

The court system this month has begun hearing new eviction cases filed after March 17, but eviction warrants may only be issued in cases unrelated to issues of non-payment of rent. As cases filed between March and October are just now able to be scheduled for court appearances, there is a likelihood that courts will face a backlog of cases to work through.

“With the courts not open I can’t move to fix these violations and I want to fix it, I want to do the best I can to keep these properties nice. I like it up here, that’s why I got some properties up here, but I need help,” said Myers who resides in Amsterdam. “This code violation would force me to break a New York state law.”

The council also heard from city resident Renato Sanges who submitted comment letters to the public hearings that were read into the record by City Clerk Jennifer Mazur. Sanges raised issues over the lack of definitions in the proposed city code chapter and the fact that there is no clear method by which the administrative appeals panel is called on to make determinations while reviewing appeals against citations submitted by residents.

“There needs to be clear definitions for residents to understand requirements for proper and consistent enforcement,” stated Sanges. “More details on how the administrative appeals panel would review and make determinations should be incorporated … to ensure their decisions are uniform across all circumstances.”

While considering possible action on the proposed ordinances, the Common Council members agreed that the current health crisis and limitations on court action to redress issues could hamper the ability of rental property owners to comply with the provisions if adopted.

“I think I’m more concerned about the do ability of it than the actual enforcement of the law because as a person who owns property, you’re sometimes caught in the middle of what you can and can’t do. You grab something or take something, and you could be held accountable,” said 2nd Ward Councilman Arthur Simonds. “New York state has made it very difficult for people of rental properties to terminate any residents or do anything in the house or even collect rent, so I think it’s kind of difficult right now.”

The Common Council ultimately approved motions to withdraw each of the proposed ordinances, planning to review the issues that their passage could possibly raise for landlords and revisit each piece of legislation in the future. Before the council can reconsider the ordinances for possible adoption, new public hearings will have to be scheduled and conducted.

Although the landscaping and visible refuse provisions were not added to the city code for administrative enforcement, each of the requirements previously existed in city code under property maintenance requirements.

Non-compliance with the landscaping and property maintenance provisions are currently subject to enforcement by the city code enforcer. An initial instance of violation will be met with a notice to remedy the matter within 72 hours. Failure to do so will result in a citation to appear in City Court where fines may be issued for each violation and in some instances, incarceration may be ordered. The city may also remove or remediate the violation at a minimum $200 mobilization fee along with other associated costs.

Mayor Vincent DeSantis in introducing the ordinances to allow the existing requirements to be enforced administratively in September pointed to that option as a more reasonable avenue to address issues surrounding blight across the city that would bear a lesser charge to residents found in violation of city code provisions while providing a means to quickly address issues.

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