By NICOLE GUGINO
OBSERVER Assistant News Editor
Rental properties in the city of Dunkirk are a problem, but what can the city do about it? This question was still unanswered after a public forum was recently held by Second Ward Councilman William Rivera.
OBSERVER Photo by Nicole Gugino
CAC member Jim White (second from left) asks for more data from Second Ward Councilman William Rivera (far right) before a law is passed on regulating city rental property owners.
Rivera presented a packet with some draft ideas about how to address the problem. He said what is contained in the document preceded his election to office. He attributed work to First Ward Councilman Michael Michalski, Donna Keith and Edna and Greg Sek, and former councilwoman Rose Floramo
"Between them, they determined this was a problem in the city that needed specific attention," he said.
He said the packet described a process of registering landlords, and requiring out-of-town landlords to appoint a local property manager. He said the registration would be free but would come with an inspection to make sure properties are up to code, which would have a fee.
"Property managers would come down to city offices and register their properties at the code office and at that time what they would set up an inspection ... and the ultimate goal is to have a rental certificate awarded," Rivera said.
He said the inspection fee and any fines for not complying would be negotiated by the Common Council so that the program could be selfsustaining.
Rivera said he hoped he could determine from the meeting if there is support for moving forward in the effort to solve the problem.
City Attorney Ronald Szot said some parts of the proposed document may not be legal and could be counter productive.
"The problem, in the first instance, you pass the law and if you're an out-of-state property owner, you have to appoint an in-county property manager. Two things, unless you hire me for a million dollars I wouldn't want to be responsible for criminal sanctions on your property. And number two, if I'm an out-of-state property owner and you can't charge me with criminal sanctions, essentially what the (proposed) law says is you would withhold the certificate of occupancy and just evict everybody. I don't know if that's legal or not. Theoretically, then you could have a lot of out-of-state owned properties unoccupied with nothing being addressed," he said.
He added although the proposed law has "just intentions" it is not a panacea from a legal perspective as well as a practical one.
Many residents spoke in favor of doing something about the problem but stressed needing more research.
"I'm in favor of us doing something but I think we need to quantify the number of rental owners that are actually out of town because .. I would like to know where that is before we got to vote on something," CAC member Jim White said.
Other residents agreed, not wanting local landlords to be the only ones punished by this action.
"Who are these constant violators? Are they the local people or are they from out of the area? I would like the data on that because if all the good people come into city hall and get their permits, what have you changed? The good landlords are still being good landlords, its just costing them more to do business," Jay Warren said.
Resident Skeeter Tower emphasized creating a sense of community through neighborhood associations as another strategy for solving the problem.
Rivera said because of the support for moving forward he will go forward with research and keep up with Szot on the legal aspect. He said there will likely be another public meeting once some progress has been made.