BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG)—Council members in Binghamton are expected to review a set of code enforcement reforms at Monday’s City Council work session.
First-term Mayor Jared Kraham announced the legislative package last week. One measure would use federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to hire an attorney to prosecute code enforcement violations.
Kraham said the prosecutor would also lead a task force to investigate persistent unsafe housing conditions and blight, as well as landlords with a history of repeated neglect.
“Say you have an individual who is operating many different properties and has a habitual method of putting families in unsafe conditions—that’s something that this prosecutor could work with the New York state attorney general or other state agencies, to bring that person to justice,” the mayor said on Friday.
Kraham announced the measure outside 22 Clarke Street in Binghamton. According to Broome County records, the boarded-up home is owned by AJEM Group LLC, which is associated with developer Isaac Anzaroot.
While Kraham did not mention Anzaroot by name, he said the house on Clarke Street was owned by “one of Binghamton’s more notorious property owners.”
“It’s properties like this that drive down property values, and it’s properties like this that are inhabited that put families at risk,” Kraham continued.
Kraham also proposed hiring another code enforcement inspector, adding a subdivision to the Parks and Recreation Department to handle property maintenance complaints and adopting stricter rules for lawn maintenance. That would include amending city code to reduce the maximum grass and weed height from 10 to 8 inches.
Enacting these initiatives would use up roughly $200,000 of the city’s ARPA funds.
“We’re boosting resources so that bad landlords and slumlords will be prosecuted,” he continued. “That is how we enact change.”
During his campaign for mayor, Kraham promised to crack down on negligent landlords, with bipartisan support. But some housing advocates in Binghamton say the proposals would not do enough to protect tenants.
Rebecca Rathmell, a member of the Stakeholders of Broome County, a housing rights group, said the measures were too weak to compel landlords to make necessary repairs.
“The only constituents he’s delivering on this campaign promise to are homeowners who are concerned about how pretty their streets are,” Rathmell said. “Not city residents who have to decide between living without heat or hot water, or moving their children into an emergency shelter.”
Rathmell said landlords frequently rent buildings with multiple code violations, as well as ones code inspectors have condemned. She said the city currently takes a reactive approach to code enforcement, only inspecting residences when called upon, and instead should take a proactive approach with regular mandated health and safety inspections.
In Buffalo, landlords are required to register all residential properties with a city registry and submit to regular inspections in order to maintain a certificate of rental compliance. Landlords must have it to operate as an income-receiving property.
Without a certificate of rental compliance, landlords in Buffalo may not evict tenants for non-payment of rent. Rathmell said Binghamton should adopt a similar measure, punishing landlords who fail to comply with code citations in ways that affect their profit.
“We need legislation that requires the landlords throughout the city to submit to regular health and safety inspections of their rental units prior to offering them for occupancy, period end,” she added.