New Paltz Mayor Jason West recently proposed new regulations to stop landlord abuse, improve maintenance of rental properties and address violations more efficiently.
West said the regulations would require landlords to complete a checklist of pre-existing laws to more accurately keep track of what they are responsible for.
“The law says that you get that checklist when you register your property and you get 30 days before your annual inspection and that checklist is now given to every tenant and the property owner with the date of inspection,” West said. “The tenant knows for the first time when the inspections are and what the inspector’s looking at when they come over. So everyone’s going to be on the same page from day one and throughout the year with what’s expected.”
The idea stemmed from pre-flight checklists given to pilots, which led to reduced accident rates and pre-surgery checklists, which resulted in a 20 to 30 percent decrease in infection, West said. Given the success of these two models, West said he thought the principle could work to ensure “safe and healthy” housing.
According to the law, which can be found on the Village of New Paltz website, the checklist would contain confirmation that the property passed an inspection by the building inspector, the rental registration fee was paid and the property owner read and understood all forms, permits, laws and restrictions provided by the building inspector and will keep the property in compliance with regulations at all times.
West said the checklist and other regulations are updates because the town has changed and rents have increased, but the village still operates under an old system developed by former mayor Thomas Nyquist in the 1990s.
The new regulations would also change the way housing code violations are handled, as West said he and Building Inspector Kathy Moniz realized how long it was taking to enforce code violations, which were sometimes remedied after the tenant’s lease already expired.
West said this is unfair to the 75 percent of residents who rent in the village, as well as landlords who keep up their properties, since “unscrupulous” landlords not spending money on maintenance are able to make more on worse housing.
When establishing a more effective method of handling violations, West said they drew inspiration from driving a car.
“When you register your license and buy a car, you agree to always abide by the rules of the road and if you get pulled over with a broken tail light you get a ticket because you know that your taillight shouldn’t be broken,” West said. “It’s the same thing with rental properties. If you’re registering your rental property and you’re going in with the intentions of being a landlord, you are expected to understand all the laws that you are under and if we find you in violation of those laws we’re going to give you a ticket.”
The regulations would also include two “controversial enforcement mechanisms.” One provision would say that if the rental property was unlivable and tenants were displaced due to something the landlord did or did not do, landlords would need to pay for the tenants to rent another property until their lease ended.
The other provision would increase fines up to $750 daily, which West called an “economic disincentive” because with lower fines, landlords might choose to take the fine rather than repair damages, which cost more.
“The gist is that in a market like this, we can’t have a situation where a property owner can make more money breaking the law than they can by obeying it,” West said.
Third-year psychology major Shannon Reilly said she likes the idea of stricter regulations after having continuous issues with her landlords, Valerie Erwin and Leonard Loza.
“The ceiling in one of my housemate’s rooms is falling down, her windows don’t close correctly and neither do mine. One of our pipes in our sink is broken. We have had a mouse problem…and it took them five days to bring us mouse traps,” Reilly said. “We were also supposed to get covers for all of our radiators, we still don’t have those.”
Reilly also said there have been two blackouts since she moved in and while one affected half the town, the other was from heavy winds and the rest of the block had power. She said when her housemate asked their landlords to check the breaker box, Loza refused.
“We have gotten to the point that when something goes wrong we just either take care of it ourselves or we ignore it because it’s such a hassle having to deal with the two of them,” Reilly said.
Matt Weinberg, a fourth-year philosophy major, said he had numerous problems with his former landlord. He now lives in an apartment complex geared to non-students and although there are stricter standards, he has not had landlord-related difficulty, which he believes shows how students are taken advantage of.
“We absolutely need more regulations, and we need some kind of active arbitration to preside over the landlords in our town. Even aside from my own experiences, I’ve heard tons of horror stories about students living under unfair terms and illegal conditions,” Weinberg said. “It’s easy to exploit younger people who often don’t know any better, but that doesn’t mean it should be happening in a town predominantly populated by students.”
In response to concerns expressed by some landlords, Moniz said she will sit on a committee along with four local landlords and two village trustees to discuss these grievances and make any necessary changes.
After the committee finishes their work, there will be a public hearing for people to make suggestions and share their thoughts, followed by a review by the Village Board. Only after all these steps are taken will the village code be updated, Moniz said.
West said after writing the checklist and knowing everything the inspector looks at, he was surprised to see how many properties are not kept the way they should be. He said although there could be different reasons for this, it is something that needs to be taken care of.
“It can be a matter of someone just not really being around… It could just be neglect, it doesn’t have to be malevolence,” West said. “People are living in mold infested apartments, places with no heat or not much ventilation. We’ve got to step in so that gets safe and clean.”