Last night, the Common Council Legal Committee held a fact-finding hearing about rental properties in Hudson. Aldermen John Friedman (Third Ward) and David Marston (First Ward), Council president Don Moore, and city attorney Cheryl Roberts made up the panel hearing the comments; Mayor William Hallenbeck, Police Commissioner Gary Graziano, Fire Commissioner Tim Hutchings, Code Enforcement Officer Peter Wurster, and Hudson landlord Phil Gellert made up the panel offering the comments. Tom Casey reports on the meeting in today's Register-Star: "Viewpoints shared on city housing."
Casey's report requires one correction: Friedman did not say he wanted city code to elevate problematic addresses; rather he said the goal was to see how city code could alleviate the problems.
The hearing went on for two hours, and Gossips will make no attempt to report everything that was said, only some interesting information that emerged from the discussion.
Wurster offered the information that there are more than 600 rental apartments in Hudson. He revealed that 50 percent of Gellert's apartments turn over in less than a year. He outlined the following as a typical pattern of code enforcement's involvement with rental units: tenants fall behind in the rent; they receive an eviction notice; the tenants then ask the code enforcement office to inspect the property to establish that it is substandard so they can argue that they should not have to pay the past due rent. "You can set your clock by that schedule," said Wurster.
In his comments, Gellert complained that it takes too long to get a bad tenant out of an apartment, pointing out that after eviction notices are served, bad tenants continue in the unacceptable behavior that triggered the eviction in the first place.
There was some discussion about who had the power to declare a building a safety hazard and order it demolished. According to Friedman, the code gives this power to the fire chief. Wurster asserted that "the mayor is the ultimate person to say that a building needs to come down." In the discussion of condemnation and demolition, Hallenbeck talked about how some cities took possession of dangerous and derelict buildings, stabilized them, and then sold them for the cost of the stabilization--generally describing, without naming any particular city, the Community Land Bank program that the mayor of Newburgh has initiated in that city. At the end of his comment, Hallenbeck added that this took money, implying that the City of Hudson had no money available for such a program. Later in the discussion, Hallenbeck made the observation: "There is an expense to the City when you want to aggressively attack something."
Hutchings pointed out that at least one life could have been saved if a rental inspection law had been in place before a disastrous fire on Robinson Street nearly ten years ago. He explained that a new tenant had moved into an apartment before the prior tenant's belongings had been removed. Those belongings had been packed into boxes, which had been stacked in a hallway blocking an exit from the building.
Graziano made the point that there is not necessarily a correlation between buildings with fire and safety code violations and locations that the police department considers problematic. He reported that the police had been called more than 200 times to the same locations within the past eighteen months and concluded that "certain landlords rent to problematic people."
At the end of the meeting, when comments from the audience were heard, Timothy O'Connor talked about a particular building on lower Allen Street, where "successive tenants are constant problems," and recommended the City consider enacting an "Animal House law," which holds landlords responsible if the police are regularly summoned to their building.