WATERTOWN — Edward Smalls is among a growing number of landlords who are complaining that tenants are trashing their properties and nothing is done about it.
Mr. Smalls, who owns about eight rental properties in Watertown, addressed the issue during Monday night’s City Council meeting. He was among eight people who spoke about it.
He told council members that he’s not going to make future investments in Watertown because of the ongoing issues with tenants and the city not taking action.
“We’re not doing a damn thing about it,” he said.
Mr. Smalls claimed that one tenant made methamphetamine in his apartment. He also had an issue with a woman who moved into an apartment with a tenant and didn’t sign a lease. When he tried to get her to move out, she told him that she had more rights as a tenant than he has as a landlord.
He said that tenant and others like her are violating theft of services laws.
“Finally got me a court date, the person asked for an extension,” Mr. Smalls said. “I had to go to court for a person I didn’t even put on my lease.”
But 90% of his tenants “are great;” it’s the remaining 10% who are giving him problems, he said.
Two contractors, Seth LaBarge and Brian Watson, said they are losing jobs because some landlords are getting out of the rental properties business.
Landlords said that tenants should be held accountable for their actions. They also said that the state’s COVID-19 policies allowing tenants to temporarily not pay rent created some of the current problems.
The landlord/tenant issue first surfaced several months ago when landlord William M. Bonner started asking questions about why a tenant hadn’t been arrested after her apartment was left with $35,000 in damages in June.
The incident prompted an executive session about it a few months ago and then came up during a work session with City Police Chief Charles P. Donoghue and Jefferson County District Attorney Krystina S. Mills.
Mr. Bonner and some landlords think police and the district attorney’s office should do more about tenants causing damage to their apartments.
Last week, Chief Donoghue said that an arrest will happen in the case involving Mr. Bonner’s property for some of the damage.
The investigation is continuing, the police chief said, to determine who caused the other damage in the apartment.
Those types of cases are hard to prove, however, and need evidence before an arrest can be made, Mrs. Mills said last week.
She said those cases are normally handled in civil court.
On Monday night, Pratt Street resident Trina Kuan told council that it’s the city’s responsibility to help the landlords.
Later in the meeting, Councilman Cliff G. Olney III said state lawmakers need to beef up New York’s landlord/tenant laws.
Councilwoman Sarah V. Compo Pierce suggested that the city contact Watertown’s state representatives and write a letter to Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul about what’s going on locally.
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Our whole system is built on the assumption that it's not the job of the executive or legislative branches of government to make things right. When somebody does you wrong, the expectation is that you will take them to court, where justice will be rendered largely in accordance with traditions never written by any legislature. Other informal systems are also relied on in the case of bad tenants: credit ratings, landlord grapevines, etc...The real cause of this problem is the lack of a civil code, which is above the level of city government. To each level it's appropriate duty. The failure here is higher up.
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