In mid-March, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan unveiled what supports called "historic" fair housing legislation. The Common Council discussed the measure this week.
Under the proposed law, the Buildings Department can intervene and make repairs rather than declare a structure unsafe, displacing the residents. Negligent or absentee landlords would be billed for the cost of repairs.
Sheehan, a Democrat running for a third term, says the measure also would make it harder for landlords to evict tenants: there would have to be a "good cause."
That "good cause" clause came under scrutiny Monday night, with several landlords and tenants voicing concerns. Among them, Emma Smith.
"The people who are in these communities, who live in the communities, who are trying to take care of the properties are the ones getting screwed over," Smith said. "I know they mentioned something about with the code enforcement coming in to fix and repair. So the tenants they'll get screwed over but they never did answer if they're going to offer repair forgiveness because obviously if the landlord can't afford to fix something, especially the tenant brings it up, like someone said, the tenants purposely breaking windows, of course had been closed. You couldn't even file for eviction paperwork. So what are you gonna do just have busted windows, and then let the water ruin your own property that the tenants don't care about, because they're about to leave whenever this free ride is over, a lot of tenants are just riding out to free eviction, because why would they don't have to, um, and you know, the tenants are destroying your property unfortunately, and the landlords are stuck there."
11th ward Common Councilor Alfredo Balarin, himself a landlord, says he understands the state eviction moratorium has taken a toll on property owners, but argues this law is different.
"This is about addressing issues with landlords who do not take care of their property, with landlords who see their tenants as second class citizens," Balarin said. "Who don't address issues and concerns that they brought up to their landlords."
Balarin says the measure will protect tenants who have had to call in code violations or complained that landlords have failed to address problems or make timely repairs.
It's not rent control, it's to tell the landlord you cannot force out a tenant because they have called you to do your job. It is not so that landlords don't get their investment back from what they put into the project. It is so that landlords that intimidate tenants by telling them, we're gonna raise your rent, you know, three, $400, even though we've done no work on your property, because you called code on us."
Sheehan says she wants the city of Albany to have the power to be more proactive when it comes to preventing urban blight.
“So this is not, as some have said, de facto rent control," Sheehan said. "This is a way for us to ensure that we are creating those neighborhoods where there is quality housing that is affordable to the people who live in them."
Balarin tells WAMC the Common Council will continue discussing the legislation in May.