OLEAN — Olean officials have struggled for more than a decade to craft a policy to fight the city’s blight, with most efforts revolving around requiring inspections of rental properties.
In 2006, city officials changed the zoning code to require a certificate of compliance for all structures built, expanded or remodeled after the amendment’s introduction. However, blighted properties built before the law’s introduction that were not being renovated fell outside of its scope, unless a complaint was filed.
In September 2008, the city formed the Clean Up the City Committee, which recommended a law requiring a certificate of occupancy from the city’s code enforcement office for any property transfer. In May 2009, the proposal was made law by a 4-3 vote, with no inspection fees for the property owners.
That was superseded by a new law proposed in 2010 — the current landlord registration law, which recommended sweeping changes for rental properties that included requiring inspections between tenants.
A public forum brought out criticism from several landlords, including then Alderman-elect Tina Kamery, a Ward 3 Republican who declared the proposal “communism.”
Following the meeting, the committee dropped several provisions, including rental inspections and requirements that landlords keep insurance on the properties they rent.
“The registration law was passed, and the inspections fell by the wayside,” said Capt. Ed Jennings of Olean’s city code enforcement office.
After the watered-down law was put in place, resistance was still felt. By Jan. 1, a month after the original deadline to register, it was estimated only about 200 landlords had done so. Several were then charged with failure to register under the law, including Kamery, who was later ordered to register by a Salamanca city judge after a change of venue.
The system was further refined when legislation passed in 2015 that made it a landlord’s ultimate responsibility to pay water bills. It created a second database the landlord registration system could be checked against, which officials said has made circumventing the system difficult, though not impossible.