OLEAN — On Tuesday, Oleanders are encouraged to sound off on a proposed rental inspection law.
The 29-page proposal to replace Chapter 12 of the city code is being offered by the Common Council in an attempt to stem blight among rental properties.
The hearing will be at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the council chambers of the Olean Municipal Building. If no changes are required following the hearing, the proposal is expected to come before the full council for a vote Nov. 28. The law would go into effect on June 1, 2018.
Q: What properties are covered by the law?
The law requires several classes of property to be inspected and certified as safe for occupancy.
Article II of the proposal requires an inspection and certificate of occupancy be issued for “all residential and commercial property” at the time of sale, with penalties if a property is occupied without passing an inspection. The cost is $60 for the first inspection, with a second inspection if necessary at no cost. The law does not affect owner-occupied homes until they are sold.
Article III requires all rental units except for owner-occupied structures with one additional unit to be subject to inspection every time a unit is vacated.
Q: What does the law require of rental property owners?
Article III includes the language approved in 2010 by the Common Council to require landlords of rental properties to register with the city, including details on ownership, number of units, and if there is an insurance policy covering each property.
When a rental unit is vacated, property owners are to contact the codes office and set up an appointment for inspection.
City inspectors will enforce the city and state housing and fire codes. The proposal states that the state code, the city code — which is revised in Article I of the proposal — and regulations created by the city fire department will set the standards.
Q: How will the city enforce the proposal?
A: Olean Mayor Bill Aiello said it is too early to tell just how the law will be enforced. If the proposal moves forward as presented, Aiello said he hopes to use the funds collected by inspections to cover two part-time employees for the increased workload.
And just how a vacancy is found still needs to be ironed out.
City attorney Nick DiCerbo said the city has computer software used to track water billing that can help, but a computer upgrade would be needed to automatically notify the code office of a change in water billing. Alderman Kevin Dougherty, R-Ward 4, who introduced the proposal, suggested that the city use information from the Cattaraugus County Office of Real Property Services to determine if properties are owner-occupied.
Q: What happens if a property is found out of compliance?
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. If a third inspection is required before the property passes, the cost will be $25.
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.
Q: Will the nursing homes or City of Olean Housing Authority require inspections?
A: No. There are several types of properties exempted from the code, including owner-occupied properties with no more than one rental unit, hotels and motels, hospitals, nursing homes or other dwelling units which fall under the jurisdiction of state or federal licensing or regulations for medical or nursing services.
Q: Are there any breaks for property owners who rent apartments to short-term tenants?
A: If a change in occupancy occurs within 12 months of the certificate issuance, the owner will be charged $30 for each inspection.
Q: Is the proposal set in stone?
A: The public hearing on Tuesday could trigger revisions, Aiello said.
“We’ll see what the feeling of the council is after that,” he said.
Q: Will people be left homeless by this law?
Local Citizen’s Action Network member Chris Stanley said he is concerned that tenants could be displaced by inspections.
Since inspections are required before a tenant moves in, the only cases that could lead to eviction are ones involving properties that are being rented illegally. That violation could result in a fine of up to $1,000 a day and 15 days imprisonment. City officials said prospective tenants are encouraged to ask about the status of certification when seeking an apartment.
But eviction is unlikely, said Capt. Ed Jennings, head of the city’s code enforcement. He said his office makes an effort to work with landlords and he has discretion on how much time to give them to make repairs or evict the tenants.
“If it’s a serious violation, we’re going to address it,” by shutting down a property, he said. “But if it’s something that can get done over time and through negotiations with the owner or the occupant, we’d rather go that route other than fine people. We’re not here to do that — we’re just here to get compliance and get Olean as a better place.”
Q: What else will city officials do to help solve the city’s housing problems?
What else will be needed to fight blight in the city has yet to be determined, Aiello said.
“With two full-timers up there and two part-time, it’s a matter of getting out there” and inspecting, Aiello said, adding that as time goes on, other programs or opportunities to remedy blight will be found.
Housing activists are urging the city to initiate programs for new housing. Stanley said he does not believe the inspection law will solve the city’s housing problems.
“I think in the longer run, we should look to get more decent quality, safe, sanitary and affordable housing for low income citizens in our area, run by responsive landlords.”
(City Editor Danielle Gamble contributed to this report. Contact reporter-editor Bob Clark at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @OTHBob)