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Wayne Post
  • State official defends Palmyra rental-inspection plan

  • A controversial proposal that would allow the town to conduct fire code inspections in all rental properties was back before the Town Board last week.



    And when it was all said, the board decided to hold off on its adoption.

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  • A controversial proposal that would allow the town to conduct fire code inspections in all rental properties was back before the Town Board last week.
    And when it was all said, the board decided to hold off on its adoption.
    A lively discussion exploring possible negative consequences of its passing took place at the Thursday, April 25 meeting at the East Palmyra Fire Hall (once a year the board meets in East Palmyra).
    Palmyra’s proposed Local Law 2 is at its core, New York State’s Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code. A section in the code requires all dwellings housing three families or more (i.e. apartment buildings) and areas of public assembly to be inspected annually. In Palmyra’s version of the law, however, the town would additionally conduct fire code inspections in single-family, two-family, and mobile rental dwellings at least once every 24 months.
    Landlords in attendance shared hypothetical scenarios stemming from the law’s alleged vague language in relation to apartment inspections. Scratching the surface of an hour-long conversation, topics included preserving the privacy rights of renters, financial costs associated with managing a rental property, adopting a database of Palmyra’s rental dwellings and the potential abuse in the law’s enforcement.
    Richard Thompson, a representative from the Department of State,  outlined a brief history of how the Uniform Fire Prevention Code came to be in 1984, its purpose to set minimum standards for municipalities outside of New York City and its evolution into what is now seen as a model code.
    “In 2005, we offered up a model code to comply with new state regulations, which required local governments to update their existing local laws,” he said. “It took a while, and most of them have done so. Palmyra didn’t, which we just found out at the beginning of the year. What you have before you now represents the minimum administration and enforcement that’s acceptable in the state. A renter’s inspection program is above minimum regulation, and it’s perfectly appropriate to go beyond the minimum.”
    Many in attendance questioned accurate and effective enforcement of the inspections without the existence of a so-called “rental registry.”  
    Board member Mike Lambrix said it won’t be that difficult to identify rentals.
    Some questioned whether the 4th Amendment, which deals with unreasonable searches and seizures, is violated through the inspections.
    “I would like my tenants to have the same right to privacy as everyone else,” says landlord Dan Nichols. “Dan Wooden (the town code enforcement officer) may not kick someone’s door down, but you’re writing a law here that’s going to last forever … you don’t know who the next (code enforcement officer is going to be.”
    Gerald Bamberger of Rochester, who owns rental property in Palmyra, chimed in: “This hits significant federal rights – when you say why would you be concerned about the inspector coming in, well why would you be concerned about police officers searching you? … There are constitutional rights that we all share, and they’re there for a reason.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Nichols also spoke with the Town Board about his dissatisfaction with yet another check he would be making out to the town on top of the other financial commitments he holds to his properties, all in the desire to keep rents down.
    Lambrix motioned to table the issue, citing his desire to ensure Palmyra’s attorneys had a moment to evaluate a slew of concerns expressed by area landlords before a vote.
     
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