rental inquiries

A sign for rental inquiries hangs on a fence near an Oak Hill apartment building. City officials now have until Sept. 1 to roll out inspections of housing units upon vacancy following a Common Council resolution approved Tuesday.

OLEAN — The city has another three months to get its rental inspection program in place, but officials hope to be ready sooner.

The Common Council unanimously approved an extension of the effective date of a revised Article 12 of the city Code of Ordinances from June 1 to Sept. 1 as officials work out the bureaucracy in hiring two new inspectors.

Mayor Bill Aiello said he hopes to be done in less than three months, but there is still work needed to get the program — aimed to curb blight by forcing property owners to upgrade substandard housing before rental and sale — ready for public rollout.

“We ran into some not major problems, but some problems with Civil Service, with the union contract, and the software,” Aiello said, with the software problems now worked out. “We’re just working on the language with Civil Service.”

Part of the problem has been working out the job requirements and official titles among three options, Aiello said, adding it has not yet been decided if the employees will be considered code enforcement officers, building inspectors or building safety inspectors under state law. Once that is decided, the mayor said employees can be hired and given time to pass the required tests for the positions.

Until the mid-2000s, the city had its own Civil Service department, but facing budget shortfalls and deficit financing, the program was cut by then-Mayor Dave Carucci and the responsibilities shifted to the Cattaraugus County Civil Service.

The employees will operate under the Civil Service Employee Association union contract, even though the office is under the city fire department.

Aiello said he hopes to be done in less than three months, and said if ready early, “We’ll come back to you.”

“I didn’t want to come back to you in 30 days and ask for another 30 days” if not ready yet, the mayor said.

Alderman Paul Gonzalez, D-Ward 3, who ran Tuesday’s meeting in the absence of council President John Crawford, agreed that a longer deadline was preferable.

“I just want to move it once,” Gonzalez said. “I didn’t want you to have to come back again.”

The council voted Dec. 12 to rewrite Article 12 of the city Code of Ordinances to include inspections of properties when the classification changes — such as when a dwelling is vacated. Inspections will also be required any time a property is sold or transferred to a new owner. While single-family, owner-occupied structures are included in the code change, the major focus will be on the roughly 2,600 registered rental units in the city, of which some have attracted complaints of blight.

Fees were set in December, and officials said they will be revisited at the end of the fiscal year to see if adjustments are needed to cover the cost of inspections. The 2018-19 budget includes $45,000 in expected revenue from the inspections.

Inspections will cost $60. If a property fails an inspection, the property owner will be given time to remedy the violation, with a timeline based on severity, officials said. If upon a second inspection — at no additional cost — the property passes, a certificate of occupancy will be issued. Any further reinspections before a certificate is issued will cost $25.

In an effort to help landlords who take care of their properties, the city will charge $30 to inspect a property if it has a certificate less than a year old.

For those who rent out properties without a certificate, possible punishments run from a fine of $250 to $1,000, or even up to 15 days imprisonment. Each day’s failure to comply constitutes a separate violation.

(Contact reporter-editor Bob Clark at bclark@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @OTHBob)