Canton landlords have issues with village’s rental registration proposal

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CANTON — The village will hold its third public hearing Monday on a proposed registration law that would require landlords to provide information about their rental properties to village officials. In attendance will be Adam Todd and Diane Exoo, who still have several concerns with the proposal.

“It is legislative overreach,” said Ms. Exoo, who owns three rental properties on State Street. “It is a solution in search of a problem.”

Mr. Todd, who owns seven single-family rentals and four duplexes in the village, said he has been in contact with village officials for about 18 months regarding the law.

“Mostly I indicated that my biggest concern is I wanted all properties to be treated equally and I had not really done legal research to determine if there was any basis for that or not,” he said, referring to a meeting he had with members of the rental registration committee. “If there is a violation of the code, it should not matter if it is a rental property or an owner-occupied single-family home.”

Mr. Todd said after consulting with local attorneys, he was directed to New York State Village Law 7-702, which is a uniformity statute that states “all such regulations shall be uniform for each class or kind of buildings throughout each district but the regulations in one district may differ from those in other districts.”

“It can’t be owner-occupied versus non-owner-occupied,” Mr. Todd said. “Those are not classes of buildings.”

Mr. Todd and Ms. Exoo also take issue with the inspection process in the law.

“It says there is a mandatory inspection every three years and there is very recent case law that says requiring an inspection without a warrant is a warrantless search and violates a tenant’s Fourth Amendment rights and privacy rights,” Ms. Exoo said. “If you think about it, someone comes into your home, even if it is for a brief moment. They can tell all kinds of things about you. They look at your pictures, your posters. They can tell your political beliefs, they may be able to tell your sexual orientation, maybe there is financial information.”

The law states that a code enforcement officer can inspect the rental property upon either “(1) the consent of a person in lawful possession of either dwelling unit therein and who has permission to access the area in question pursuant to his or her rental agreement; (2) the consent of the owner or managing agent; or (3) upon the procurement of an administrative search warrant from a court of competent jurisdiction to enable such inspection.”

“You can do it on an administrative warrant. Now, an administrative warrant has a lesser standard than a criminal search warrant,” Ms. Exoo said. “My question to the village board would be: Why do you want to give renters less rights than a criminal? If you are going into a criminal’s house, you need a warrant.”

Mr. Todd takes issue with the wording that the person in lawful possession of the unit may consent to a search.

“One of the things I read in here that bothers me is that the rental law permits the non-owner occupant, a renter basically, to authorize inspections without regard to whether they have authority to do so,” he said. “So they are renting the property, but they do not necessarily have the right to invite government agents into the home that I own to do the inspection.”

While landlords may self-certify their properties, by doing so they may be subjecting themselves to legal consequences.

“They want it to be notarized and they say it is a class A misdemeanor to provide a false statement,” said Mr. Todd of the self-certification form. “Well, if you have it notarized, it becomes a felony and it is not up to the village to determine that. That is the judge’s responsibility.”

The law would also make it more difficult for college professors to rent their houses if they were to go on sabbatical or teach elsewhere for a year.

“It imposes new obligations on college professors,” Ms. Exoo said. “If a professor goes away for a year — and that happens all the time — now they have to comply with this rental registration.”

Ms. Exoo also believes there is too much potential turnover for the board to pass a complex new law.

“Currently, our Village Board is in a state of flux. Is this the time to be considering a controversial law that will generate litigation using our tax dollars? We have a village trustee election in four weeks. We have a new trustee who has just been appointed and is not familiar with the prior hearings or concerns regarding the rental registration law,” she said in a written statement. “The Village of Canton’s code enforcement officer has obtained a new position and resigned, and the Village is currently looking for a replacement. Now is not the time.”

The public hearing will be before the board’s monthly meeting at 6 p.m. Monday.

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