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Jamestown Needs More Than Rental Registration To Fix Housing Issues

Does a compliance rate of 27 percent serve as an indicator that more is needed to assure that rental units in the city are habitable and code compliant? The Post-Journal reported in their coverage of a recent City Council work session that the city would pursue stricter enforcement of the current rental registration law. It was also reported that in 2016 city officials stated that of 6,352 rental units in Jamestown only 1,691 had completed a registration form as required by city code. Now, almost three years later it has been decided that stricter enforcement of this rental registration law is needed. A review of the registration form indicates that very little effort is required to complete the form and it requests a minimal amount of information. Why, then is there such a low compliance rate? The most intrusive of information requested is disclosure of landlord insurance carrier and policy information. This information would appear to protect the city in event of a structure fire that might require demolition or other disaster more than it would to assure a safe and habitable space for occupants.

It is my view that we should not expend time, effort and money to increase compliance with a city code that appears to offer little in the way of occupant safety or preservation of the value of our aging housing stock. There are many good landlords in the city but there are also landlords that care little about the property that they own and manage. Our failure to adequately address this problem has had a negative impact on the quality of life in Jamestown, offered an easy opportunity for transient tenants to set up illicit operations, and I believe may be a factor in the city’s need to look at new multiunit affordable housing projects. We need to protect and preserve our current housing stock.

Deciding to buy property to rent to others or rent property that you currently own is a business decision. We need to take a hard look at what has been created in the city by having minimal oversight of an industry that can, if operated properly, have a very positive impact upon the quality of housing and value of property in our neighborhoods.

The time is ripe for a robust city code that will address the regulation of all rental property in Jamestown. City code should require an application process for issuance of operating permits to those property owners that desire to be in the business of renting apartments. This should include exterior and interior inspections of all rental units to assure that the structure is safe, provides operational and code compliant heat, electric, water and affords adequate living space, ambient light and sets maximum unit occupancy.

This idea is not new to Jamestown nor to city officials. In the past, Jamestown Renaissance Corporation (JRC) took a hard look at how other communities were addressing the problem of sub-standard rental units. With assistance of a local attorney a model law for Jamestown was drafted and presented to city officials and members of council. Unfortunately, due to vocal opposition by some in the community this effort was left to wither on the vine. The code that remains is a registration system that simply does not work.

Jamestown is not unique in grappling with the problems that absentee landlords and transient rental populations bring to the community. Across New York State communities face similar struggles and some have taken positive steps to address this issue. The town of Ithaca, city of Ithaca, Binghamton, Cortland, and Syracuse have all adopted legislation that requires some form of rental regulation. We do not need to “recreate the wheel” to begin this process but we do need to recognize that we face a problem, a problem that cannot be addressed simply by asking for information. We need to look at the legislation that other communities have passed and utilize a best practices approach to enact a system that will work for Jamestown.

If we can accomplish this it will be a win-win for renters, good landlords, and the neighborhoods of Jamestown.

Greg Lindquist is a Jamestown resident.

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