Now Is Not The Time To Crack Down On Housing Code Violations In City

Legislation awaiting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature mandating minimum fines for unremedied housing code violations suffers from bad timing — but that doesn’t mean such a proposal isn’t needed.

The legislation imposes a minimum $50 fine for failure to comply with an order of remedy, a $100 to $200 fine for a second violation and a $150 to $300 fine for subsequent violations. It also authorizes local governments to enact laws prohibiting individuals from obtaining building permits or purchasing property if they have outstanding orders of remedy or immediately hazardous violations. The state can also devise rules requiring anyone seeking a building or contruction permit or to purchase property owned by a land bank or subsidized with public money to disclose any outstanding orders of remedy or immediately hazardous violations on any property the person owns.

Implementing the proposal in 2021 is a problem. Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, is right that the midst of an eviction moratorium that has hurt landlords is a bad time to get tough on housing code violations. Many landlords are owed thousands of dollars by tenants who haven’t paid rent. It will take months or years for those landlords to recoup their losses. The state United Court System’s decision to shutter Housing Courts so judges can focus on criminal cases also means the law has no teeth for at least another year.

That doesn’t mean such a bill wasn’t warranted before COVID-19 or once the state has recovered a bit more from the pandemic. Judges have a lot of flexibility with housing code violation cases. Often, that discretion is used properly — one can’t properly paint a house in December, after all. And judges often take into account the fact that homeowners legitimately may not have the money for repairs.

But a judge’s good nature and desire to work with people can leave code enforcement officers and neighboring homeowners frustrated as code violations take lengthy periods to be resolved. In our view, a tougher approach on housing code violations has been needed for some time in some Jamestown neighborhoods — but now is the wrong time to crack down.


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