Landlords and Tenants and Laws; Oh My!

05 Jun

Wall St. at Main St. Panorama 1916

It seems that Kingston’s Tenant Accountability Act is going back to Committee.

Tenant law likely to head back to Kingston Common Council Committee (video added)

In my brief experience with matters legislative, “back to Committee” is often synonymous with “Hasn’t got a snowball’s chance,” so there is not too much to worry about there.  I can only hope that the landlord legislation of earlier this year makes a comeback, even in some modified form.  Some provisions of that bill are worthwhile, even if the landlords that showed up en mass at that Laws and Rules Committee meeting could not see the benefits.

But, debating the relative merits of these tandem laws is not why I write today.  What I have a problem with is the public discussion that has taken place so far.  Some of the argument has been appalling, and would not be tolerated in a high school debate room, let alone employed in a committee meeting room.

First, a small thing, but irritating, none the less.  At the packed public meeting of the Laws and Rules Committee earlier this year, a woman identifying herself as a landlord, complained that tenants “take the batteries out of the smoke detectors in the apartment, and use them in their TV remote.”  She claimed that “it happens all the time.”  “I know’, she said, ‘because I’ve seen it.”  This was immediately picked up and quoted as fact by at least one legislator on the committee, and was asserted again in last night’s meeting by the committee chair.  The problem with the statement is that it’s unlikely.  Most modern wireless smoke detectors run on disposable 9-volt or non-replaceable 10 year Lithium/Ion batteries, while television, VCR, and DVD remotes take AA or AAA batteries.  A small issue, maybe, but it represents a larger pattern of deception.

Another unsupported statement thrown about as fact by some members of the Common Council is this “85% of all landlords in Kingston are good, and you want to punish them for the 15% that aren’t.”  I would question the validity of the numbers.  Where do the figures comes from?  Is the evidence anecdotal, or do you have some solid data to back up the claim?  If we are going by anecdotal evidence, I can tell you that I can see 4 rental properties from my yard, and three of them have awful absentee landlords that do not take care of their properties.  Those same three seem to not care about criminal activity that goes on with their tenants at their units.  Am I to conclude by that information alone that 75% of all landlords in Kingston are terrible?  At the same meeting described above, every “good landlord” that spoke there of at least one or two they personally knew of that were bad.  Others nodded in assent.  So, from that, 50%-67% are not fulfilling their obligations.  Just because someone uses percentages and statistics to support claims does not make either the claim true or the statistic accurate.  83% of all statistics are made up, as far as you know.

“Everybody knows”, or “everybody says” should carry no weight in a rational discussion.  Nor should the phrase “You can’t legislate behavior.”  For an Alderman to say, as in last night’s meeting, that her violation of fire code is excusable because everyone on her street does it is just puzzling.  I would think taking the Common Council’s oath of office precluded such action.

All of this might win an argument, but these techniques accomplish little else.  They produce heat, but not results.  This is not practice worthy of our elected representatives.

Working together, you can make sensible legislation.  That is, after all, part of the job for members of the Common Council.  While few proposals will come before you in perfect form, a serious and thoughtful discussion, work, and compromise can craft decent bills to be sent to the Council for a vote.  We don’t have to throw the whole thing out or bury it just because we don’t like a provision or two.  We seem to have come to an all-or-nothing approach in relatively short order, and that will get precious little done.

Something must be done. In the case I’ve been using as an example, changes in the marketplace demand changes in the law.

During his Sunday WKNY radio appearance this week, Mayor Shayne Gallo said the latest census data show Kingston with 53% of our residential population as renters.  Mayor Gallo has already offered the city pay for quarterly inspections of the rental properties.  Why don’t we make it annual inspections, inside and out; City absorbs the cost, thereby lifting the bi-annual fee the landlords have to pay under current law.  We let the landlords do the proper maintenance as provided for under state and local codes already in place.  If a complaint is made against a landlord or tenant, the City inspection is paid for by the complainant if no deficiency is found, and the party against if deficiency exists.  If the problem is fixed before the inspection takes place, the complainant can call off the inspection.  Reasonable time to fix problems is provided with any citation, and reasonable fines suiting the violation are levied after that grace period until the problems are solved.

These are positive steps that can be taken to improve living and business conditions here in Kingston, and they do not unfairly single out renters or owners.

-Andrew Champ-Doran

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Posted by on June 5, 2012 in Uncategorized


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