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Syracuse expands rental registry, councilor says it's almost 'illusion of action'

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
The Syracuse Common Council.

The Syracuse Common Council passed legislation expanding its rental registry to require interior inspections of all rental properties, including one and two-family dwellings. But some councilors said the law is overreaching, ineffective and a possible cash grab.

Requiring interior inspections of rentals has been two years in the making for Councilor-At-Large Khalid Bey. He said there were no requirements for interior inspections of one and two-family rentals, where most complaints come from.

“To me it’s a no-brainer to ensure that people have respectable living conditions," Bey said. "So I think it’s a good thing for the people of Syracuse. Very satisfied to see now that we have some people now on the council who understand what we're here for. While there's always going to be debate on the issues, I think the people won on this one."

The city still needs to get the permission of the owner or the occupant or a judicial warrant to perform the interior inspection. That is something, Councilor-At-Large Tim Rudd, who voted against the measure, said the city could already have done. 

“The codes department does not do that because it’s too much work and they don’t have the capacity," Rudd said. "That burden of needing to secure a warrant to establish probable cause is exactly the same with this new law. It’s simply the codes department saying they’ll do it. So why couldn’t they have done it before?"

Rudd said housing will not improve until they figure out how to stop the cash flow of slumlords.

"This law, it's going to distract the codes department, overwhelm them, and make it so the status quo is protected,” Rudd said. "It's almost an illusion of action."

There are steps being taken to speed up code enforcement. The previous council passed a new bureau of administrative adjudication that could issue fines rather than go through a lengthy courtroom process.

Councilor Joe Carni said the new rental registry appears almost like a money grab because it adds a $150 fee to one and two-family rentals.

The bureau and the new law are expected to take effect in July.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.