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Massena board considers increased inspections for rental units

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MASSENA - A Massena landlord is asking the village’s Board of Trustees to consider altering its code to require inspections for all rental properties, rather than only those that house three or more units as the current state building code mandates.

Massena property owner Dennis Kemison suggested that there is a discrepancy in the current code because it does not ensure that single-family and two-unit rental properties are up to code.

“Just because it’s a three-family unit doesn’t mean they should be kept up any better than a duplex or a single-family home,” Mr. Kemison said. “We’re all human, whether we live in a single-family or a triplex. I think that people that live in a single-family or duplex deserve the same respect as someone who lives in a triplex.”

Mr. Kemison added that he has seen a large number of single-family rentals and duplexes that should be inspected for violations of building and fire codes.

Massena Code Enforcement Officer Gregory C. Fregoe said Mr. Kemison’s argument had merit.”We’ve attempted to do this twice, the registration and inspection for all rental properties. We tried to do it 12 years ago. It failed. It came before the board, but they decided they didn’t want to do it,” Mr. Fregoe said.

“Then we went through this process two years ago again, and it didn’t go any farther than that,” he added.

The code enforcement officer suggested the village board should have a public hearing and allow landlords, tenants and other community residents to share their thoughts on a potential expansion of the inspection program. “We could see what they want to do and pursue it from there,” he said, noting it would likely require creating a full-time housing inspector post. “We’re stretched to the ends now.”

The plan drew a cool reception from at least one village official. Trustee Francis J. Carvel noted that when a similar proposal came up in the past he called other communities with inspection policies in place and the results were not promising.

“They tried something similar in Albany and what they said is watch what you wish for because you just might get it,” Mr. Carvel warned. “I think there’s a reason why it was limited to three (units) and above.”

Mr. Carvel added he believes village officials have enough tools to cite and correct delinquent properties with the building, fire and village codes currently in place.

“Not in single-family homes,” Mr. Kemison countered. “If I rented your house, who’s to inspect it to see if you have smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors.”

Mr. Carvel responded that even when inspected properties could still have violations of the building and fire codes. He used the example of a family in a 50-unit apartment removing the batteries of a smoke detector the day after an inspection.

In order to be effective, the village would have to require every property, including private homeowners, to register their home with the village. That way the village could designate which properties were rentals and which were not.

Mr. Fregoe had presented a similar proposal to the board last November, calling for the registration and annual inspection of every rental property in the village.

The village attorney at the time had expressed some concerns about enforcing the proposed changes, both from a legal standpoint and a practical standpoint. The plan had not resurfaced until this week when Mr. Kemison reiterated the concerns he had first shared with the village board in March 2011.

Mayor James F. Hidy suggested they look further into the issue. “We’ll get the ball rolling. What we might want to do is have more conversation and see how we could implement it,” he said. “If it looks like something we can initiate, we’ll certainly look at it.”

Trustee Timothy J. Ahlfeld said the proposed amendments raised a number of questions. “That’s why before we go ahead and legislate something we would have to have all the facts,” he said.

Mr. Fregoe said village officials know there are over 300 apartments in Massena. “We could find out how many duplexes there are from the water department. But we don’t know how many single-family residences are rented out,” he noted.

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