Fredonia board tables housing law

OBSERVER Photos by M.J. Stafford Dave Bird (right) gestures, as fellow landlords Ben Kravitz (left) and Mike Hodkin listen, while criticizing a proposed local law on rental housing Monday at a Fredonia Village Board meeting.

The Fredonia Village Board Monday night tabled a local law that would make major changes to rental housing codes, after dozens of landlords jammed the public hearing on the matter to express their concerns.

Their main problems with the law were a requirement for a registry of tenants and a mandate that landlords post their contact information somewhere on their property. There was also dissent over a plan to lower the maximum occupancy per square footage. Others complained there was not enough landlord representation, or consultation with housing code experts, while the proposal was getting written.

Landlord Dave Bird opened the hearing. “If you are strictly targeting student housing, I think that’s discriminatory,” he said. “You’re saying we can’t have students in a certain size room. Fredonia State has rooms smaller than closets they are giving out.”

He suggested the American Civil Liberties Union might have a problem with registries of either tenants or landlords. “Quite frankly, the only ones allowed in New York state are for sex offenders,” he said.

Ben Kravitz, a landlord who is also a village police officer, read a critical letter from Fredonia attorney John Gullo, whom he consulted for advice. “I suspect this is an impermissible invasion of privacy … Is the village requiring registration of outsiders or the poor?” Gullo wrote. Adding that the proposal had multiple language problems and left the village open to litigation, Gullo concluded, “If you are serious about rental property conditions, increase the code enforcement office funding.”

The crowd — which overflowed out of the meeting room and filled the two rooms next to it, too — applauded the letter.

Rick Burgstrom said he owned a property with a family of six as tenants. “By your definition I have to tell them to move. They’ve been in this residence 10 years.” he said the law would further worsen an already poor supply of family rental housing in the village. “I’ll have to turn it into a college rental,” he said.

Fredonia mayor Athanasia Landis defended the proposed law both before and after the hearing, while admitting that it needed to be tweaked. She called for the tabling of the law so what she characterized as minor changes to it could be made.

She reiterated her three reasons for the law: preserving the character of Fredonia’s neighborhoods, making sure tenants are safe and protecting property values. “We heavily searched every municipality that has the same kind of demographic,” she said. “By no means did we reinvent the wheel.”

“The village has a compelling governmental interest in this information,” Village Attorney Dan Gard said of registering landlords and tenants. “It’s not an invasion of privacy,” he added, as some in the crowd groaned.

Landis said a provision about allowing tenants to stop paying rent if the property was not in compliance should be changed because it was overly broad. Gard proposed a change that would allow the withholding if the dwelling’s certificate of compliance was revoked

It’s not clear when the law will return to the table. The board did not set a date to reconsider it, after Gard advised them they will need to schedule another public hearing after the changes are made.

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