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Buffalo's new law hits slumlords in the wallet

Mike Desmond

Buffalo has a new weapon against bad landlords and slumlords, a tool Albany has approved after years of efforts.

Properties in Buffalo are supposed to pay property taxes and most do. When some don't, the property can be eventually foreclosed upon, although it may be in such bad shape the property is demolished instead.

The city has demolished thousands of properties. If there are City Court fines or city charges for cleaning up the properties, the landlord has been able to walk away, leaving only unpaid property taxes.

Under a new law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, most of those fees and fines are tied into the tax bills and have to be paid to sell the property. Common Councilmember Rasheed Wyatt sees this as a big step forward.

"It helps us to hold these absentee landlords accountable. When they get fees and fines, that they can't just ignore them. They either have to pay for them or be responsible. And so I think that it gives us the teeth we didn't have before," Wyatt said. "A lot of residents have been complaining because they get these fines and these code violations and they continue to own these properties."

Wyatt and other Council members hope this new law will force bad landlords to sell or speed up foreclosures to get good buildings into the hands of people who will fix them up, becoming homes for good neighbors.

This attachment had been sought for years by those trying to deal with slumlords. Council Majority Leader David Rivera said there are other penalties.

"It's also going to affect their credit history," Rivera said. "I mean, we have to find ways to go after those delinquent or code-violating landlords that are out there, especially the absentee landlords. I think there's where the problem lies and I think this applies to absentee landlords."

Council member David Franczyk said his Fillmore District needs this.

"My district, the slumlords were the fourth horseman of the Apocalypse. We've had more demolitions than any district in the city because of the houses that were ruined by absentee slumlords," Franczyk said. "So unless they want to run the property into the ground and don't care if it's foreclosed on - assuming that this is an asset that they have spent money on - they don't want to lose it by not paying the fines for the violations."

City officials have said they are trying to collect from owner addresses across the world. Council members say this legislation wound through the Albany process because State Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes pushed it through.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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