Individuals concerned about blighted, vacant, and neglected properties that are negatively impacting their neighborhoods are welcome to attend the third installation of the “Project Slumlord” meetings tonight from 6 to 8 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church at Symphony Circle. Housing Court Judge Patrick Carney, several housing inspectors, building police, and representatives from the Common Council will be present to answer questions and hear the issues that are of highest concern to residents.
“We’ve established a forum for people to speak with housing inspectors, building police, the people who really have their feet on the ground when it comes to addressing code violations,” said Patty MacDonald, who is spearheading this effort with the City and several block clubs. “We’re talking about landlords who own multiple properties with multiple violations, people who appear in housing court over and over again, whose properties continue to plague us, and we can’t understand why we can’t get speedier resolutions to these issues.”
This meeting will be the third in a series of ongoing discussions organized by the Hudson Street Revitalization Project and sponsored by Councilman Darius Pridgen.
“What we hope to accomplish here is to get speedier resolution to these really nasty problems,” MacDonald said. “We envision a world where someone calls 3-1-1 ONCE and it goes away. The issue gets heard in housing court ONCE and it gets resolved, instead of the same problems resurfacing and having to go over them again and again.”
This series of “Project Slumlord” meetings is not designed to lay the blame on building inspectors or housing court judges, MacDonald said, but is meant to encourage dialogue that will lead to action. “The people who have this very important job to do are overburdened, understaffed, and they have very difficult problems to address. We’re approaching them as partners and saying how can we make this better? If you need new laws, we’ll talk to the Common Council. If you need feet on the ground, we’ll get that information and those resources. The fact is that times are changing and their processes have to change.”
One goal of this project is to encourage changes in legislation that could prevent issues with absentee landlords from reoccurring, such as a tax bill that would impose fines on offenders as a lien on the property, which would be collected with their tax bill if not paid timely. If the fines aren’t paid, properties would go to the In-Rem list and be auctioned off.
“Buffalo has changed so much. It used to be that if a property was derelict, nobody wanted it, but that’s not the case anymore,” MacDonald said, pointing to neighborhoods like Allentown and Chenango Street as examples. “There’s such a strong resurgence and people are clamoring to buy these properties, but we can’t get slumlords to let go of them. Some are populated by drug dealers, prostitutes, etc. and they’re just derelict. We’re trying to get new legislation to shake these properties loose so that the people who want them and want to take care of them can have them. But it’s an attitude that needs to change on the part of the people making the decisions.”
For those unable to attend tonight’s meeting, there will be another meeting in the coming months that will build off of the issues raised this evening. Organizers intend to make this an ongoing dialogue between residents and decision makers.
The following is a list of recommendations compiled at the August 6, 2013 meeting with Councilman Darius Pridgen:
“We request that the City of Buffalo set policy or write legislation as needed to accomplish the following:
• Establish a category for off-premise or not-in-proximity landlords who are New York State residents who own multiple rental units. Regulate this category as a business entity.
• Set policy to get landlords into compliance with city codes without sending cases to housing court. Issue tickets for nuisance complaints and building code violations.
• Re-examine amount of fine for violations and establish an escalating schedule for fines.
• Attach fines to tax bill and get properties with unpaid fines on the In-Rem list.
• Make special provisions for houses in historic preservation districts.
• Establish a blight tax or vacancy tax on buildings that are unoccupied to prevent deterioration, lower property values and diminished quality of life.
• Change rules for fire damaged buildings
• Emergency enclosure of fire-damaged buildings should be immediate and building should be secure from entry and elements.
• Set a time limit for repairing after a fire.
Recommendations for Housing Court
• Repeat offenders should pay additional, escalating fine as incentive to reduce the number of housing court appearances a property owner makes for one offense. Currently, property owners fail to appear, appear in court multiple times for the same offense, and request multiple postponements without making progress to correct offenses.
• Fines should escalate just like parking tickets if not paid in a timely fashion.
• Fines should be a lien on the property, collected with the tax bill if not paid timely. Properties to go on the In-Rem list if fines not paid.
• Automatic administration charge for a postponement. Automatic administration charge for a no show. Automatic administration charge for second appearance for same offense when no progress is made to correct. Charges will escalate with each additional appearance.
• Fine landlords who fail to keep appointments with building inspectors. Fines will escalate with each failed appointment.
• Fines for off-premise landlords with multiple blighted properties. Fines escalate with each property found in violation.
• Administrative fee paid by landlord when a property goes into receivership.
• Fine landlords who fail to hand over keys to receiver.
• Easier path to placing ALL properties in receivership if ONE property ends up in housing court.
• Order to Vacate should be provided to Community Police as soon as it is issued.
• Order to Vacate should provide more specific directives to Community Police regarding exceptions for contractors.”