Destructive tenants driving upstate landlords to despair

Schenectady rental owners demand more police help, less code enforcement

Schenectady City Council president Marion Porterfield (Facebook, iStock)
Schenectady City Council president Marion Porterfield (Facebook, iStock)

Schenectady landlords are fed up with tenants wrecking their rentals — and getting away with it.

Landlords and property managers took their gripes to the City Council last week, the Times Union reported. They want more police help to deal with destructive tenants and less punishment for minor infractions.

The landlords shared stories of tenants punching holes in walls, ripping out wiring and flooding basements. One landlord said tenants have caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage in the past two years without consequence, thanks in part to the city’s inaction.

“We were here two years ago and we told you about the struggles we were having then, and it’s only getting worse,” said Kimlee Marquise, according to the newspaper.

State law forbids collection of security deposits worth more than one month’s rent — far less than it can cost to repair the damage caused by a vengeful tenant. Some landlords have turned to private insurance as an alternative.

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Schenectady landlords want the local police to treat property destruction as a criminal matter, rather than a civil one. But the police are wary of landlords using them for business purposes. The police department previously pledged to distance itself from being weaponized by owners needing some muscle.

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From law enforcement’s perspective, a hole in a wall is not proof that any particular tenant committed a crime.

The city’s chief building inspector, Christopher Lunn, sympathized with landlords, but said the city can’t control the actions of individuals.

Landlords also argued the Code Enforcement Bureau should relax its policies, which include inspections every time a tenant moves in. Some complained of being fined for violations as minor as litter on the sidewalk.

Lunn spoke in favor of an inspection process that rewards owners who abide by regulations and maintain their properties. He also expressed a willingness to look at city regulations.

Complaints of destructive tenants are not new, but the pandemic and the statewide eviction moratorium, which was finally lifted in mid-January, exacerbated the problem. Even after eviction cases were allowed to proceed, landlords in the city voiced frustration that judges were advising nonpaying tenants on how to remain in their units.

As of last week, 300 eviction warrants had been issued in Schenectady and roughly 600 were pending.

[Times Union] — Holden Walter-Warner