Tivoli residents sound off on rental units in village

The reaction was decidedly mixed at the public hearing on Tivoli’s plan to tighten oversight of rental properties in the village.

At the Board of Trustees March 20 meeting, some residents claimed the proposed new law on absentee landlords would be an unnecessary burden, others said that it did not go far enough. Six residents attended the public hearing, four offered public comments.

The proposed legislation would require landlords who do not live in the area to register a local property agent, whom the village could contact for code violations or other concerns regarding the property. It also would require that non-local landlords maintain up-to-date tenant lists in a village registration system and that annual fire and building code inspections are performed on all applicable rental units. And it adds fines of up to $500 per sleeping unit for properties not properly registered or maintained.

The law would affect all landlords who do not live in Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia or Greene counties. Greene County was added to the list after the last public hearing, when Helene Tieger of Catskill objected to being labeled an absentee landlord because she lives only 20 minutes away from her rental property.

Local residents, however, voiced complaints about rental tenants beyond just the issue of absentee landlords.

Karen Cleaveland, a Tivoli Planning Board member who was an active voice in the push to reduce late-night shuttle service from Bard College, said that the village can do more to address the problems created by rental properties. “In some communities, they have rules about rental houses not being next to each other, or a certain number of feet apart, so that the density of rental properties remains lower than what we are seeing now”, she said. “From my own experience on the planning board, sometimes you have meetings for variance applications and none of the neighbors show up because they only rent the houses and have not a vested interest in the neighborhood.”

As for potential problems created by tenants of rental housing, she noted, “In communities with nuisance housing laws, if a house is reported for breaking the law by violating the noise ordinance or having underage drinking, it can be put on a no-warning list. The next time the police are called, not only do the tenants get a citation, but the landlord gets a citation as well.” Tivoli has no such law.

Rich Schiafo, a resident of Montgomery Street, also believes that the proposed law does not go far enough in addressing the source of some residents’ frustrations with rental properties. “There is more and more student housing. In the past two years, 22 Montgomery has become student housing as well as 84 Montgomery. Both of these had families in them when I moved in,” he said. “Unfortunately, it degrades the quality of the neighborhood.”

Schiafo thinks that the village board needs to get tougher, specifically on properties rented to college students. “In terms of the intent, I don’t think the law references student housing at all, which is unfortunate because I think that precipitates a lot of the problems,” he said. “Students are transient, and I think it has been shown over and over that they don’t care about where they live, and some of these landlords don’t seem to care about quality of life in the village either.”

Schiafo also thinks code enforcement is generally lacking in the village, echoing similar complaints he voiced during the public hearings on the Bard shuttle service. “The proposed law does not address the fundamental quality-of-life problems in the village: the house parties and the noise created between 12 midnight and 3am and other problems created by rental unit tenants,” he said, reading from a prepared statement.

He did support the proposed fire inspection rules, noting that they could help protect tenants from unsafe conditions. “The new law might help protect the renters from things like the recent fire that resulted in the death of Marist students in a rental property. This is important, but it does not address the larger issue of noise and other problems the students can cause,” he said.

In the end, Schiafo did say the law should be adopted but he suggested that it be amended to include additional fees for the absentee landlords, so that the village could fund more code enforcement activities.

On the other hand, Steven Young, a landlord of two properties on Spring Street, strongly objected to the proposed legislation.

Though he would not be affected by the new regulations because he lives just outside the village, Young said, “I feel like all landlords are being forced to pay for the actions of the few that are not responsible or who rent to students. That is damming and demeaning and I object to it.”

He also noted that the additional fees that landlords would incur to cover inspections would have to be passed onto the tenants, which would drive up rents in the area. “If I have a married couple with a child renting the same house for six years, I don’t see why I should have to pay for all of these inspections and fees when they move out, any more so than if I was just selling the house after a period of time. You are targeting landlords and that is prejudicial,” he said.

As for the code violations noted by other residents at the hearing, Young argued that existing laws already addressed all of the problems and just need to be better enforced. “As for noise, public drunkenness or underage drinking, there are already laws for all of those things,” he said. “If you mean public urination, well, that has probably been illegal in Tivoli since the 1800’s. I caution against this new legislation and instead urge the enforcement of the rules that are already on the books.”

Deciding that the board needed more time to deliberate on the legislation, Mayor Bryan Cranna struck a vote on the bill from the agenda, and said it would be taken at a later meeting. Although the public hearing on the issue closed, the public is still free to comment on it as an agenda item when it comes up for a vote. The board did not have statistics on the number of rental properties in the village or the number of units that would be affected by the new law.

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