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The Times
  • Little Falls to improve tracking of rental property owners

  • When an emergency or a codes violation arises at a rental property, Little Falls officials often have been left wondering: how do we contact the owner?

    The task can be daunting.

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  • When an emergency or a codes violation arises at a rental property, Little Falls officials often have been left wondering: how do we contact the owner?
    The task can be daunting.
    Police Chief Michael Masi said it’s not uncommon for officials to spend hours trying to locate a building’s owner, particularly when owners live out of town.
    City Code Enforcement Officer Phillip Green confirmed the same.
    To combat the issue, the city’s Common Council recently voted to create a database to track the locations and owners of the city’s rental properties.
    Mayor Robert Peters said the law is only the first phase of addressing the problem and will include a comprehensive list of contact information for the owner along with emergency phone numbers and a representative who resides in or maintains an office in Herkimer County.
    “It seems when you call some of them, they don’t get back to you if there is a problem,” Peters said. “There are a lot of issues that are coming up that have to be added to (the law), and we’re going to do one phase at a time.”
    All owners are required to register within 60 days from the postmarked date. If they fail to register, they will be subject to a $100 penalty. If that penalty isn’t paid within 30 days, it’ll be increased to $200. In the event that the penalty provisions are not followed within 60 days, a lien will be imposed on the property.
    Alan Mallach, nonresident senior fellow at Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., said issues with absentee landlords have been going on for years, but there’s been an increase within the last five or six years.
    “It’s become a much bigger problem in a lot of communities because of the whole foreclosure crisis and property values being low,” he said.
    Property values
    Mallach said there tends to be a correlation between property values and absentee landlords.
    “When property value is up, there’s much more concern with protecting their investment,” he said. “In communities where property values are really low, you get a pattern where a lot of landlords are getting their profits purely off of cash flow.”
    Mary Hamlin, president of Greater Utica-Rome Board of Realtors, said that the area has been ranked as one of the top 10 affordable places to live in the country.
    In 2011, the average price of a home in Herkimer County versus Oneida County was $106,731 and $123,355, respectively, Hamlin said.
    As a codes enforcer, Green said the issue becomes the number of rental properties a municipality has.
    Green covers several municipalities, including the city and town of Little Falls and the villages of Poland, Mohawk and Schuyler. But he said that the city of Little Falls and the village of Mohawk are where he sees issues because of the number of rental properties.
    Page 2 of 2 - About 46 percent of properties in Little Falls are classified as renter-occupied and 39 percent in Mohawk, according to the 2010 Census.
    “We have quite a few two-family homes. We have multiple three and four-family homes,” he said. “Those are the homes affected.”
    Other municipalities
    Codes officers from Little Falls plan to meet with those from Rome to discuss how similar issues are being combated there.
    Mark Domenico, Rome’s chief codes enforcement officer, said the city took a proactive approach to tackle issues with rental properties.
    From personnel distribution to different types of programs, Domenico said since 2003 the process has been met with success.
    “We basically (assign) our housing inspectors to certain territories,” he said. “They’re responsible for all the issues of code enforcement in their territory. They patrol the area daily.”
    Prior to this change, Domenico said everyone was responsible for everywhere and it got hard to manage.
    If conditions merit, he added, the building would not be allowed to have tenants, which usually gets the owner’s attention.
    David Farina, Utica’s codes enforcement administrator, said they’ve had similar issues with being unable to get in touch with landlords.
    They enacted two programs — Nuisance Abatement and Residential Occupancy programs, he said.
    The Nuisance Abatement Program requires property owners to correct issues with criminal or drug activities that occur on a regular basis at their properties. The Residential Occupancy Program — conducted by the Fire Department — inspects structures and updates contact information for owners every three years.
    “People are held to a higher standard (with the new protocols),” Farina said. “We’re getting a lot more compliance with the landlords.”

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