by Susan Mikula Campbell
"If you are a good landlord and a good tenant, you have nothing to fear," Town of Niagara Supervisor Steve Richards said Tuesday as the Town Board passed a new landlord law.
The law provides fines for landlords of properties where town police are called for criminal activity, such as drug activity, weapons possession, assault, gang activity, murder, domestic violence or sexual assault, or for public nuisance activities, such as disorderly conduct, alcohol-related incidents or violations of the town code.
The law notes that "Residential properties may become a haven for various criminal or disruptive activities that can cause disorder in our community and affect the quality of life of others in the Town of Niagara."
"This law will stop it dead in its tracks," Richards said. "We've never had a law to compel the landlords to control their tenants."
The law requires landlords to apply for a rental housing business license within 30 days, which will cost $10 every two years.
Landlords will be notified by the town clerk of police reports of criminal activity or nuisance activity at a property, so they can contact the tenant to cease the activity or evict the tenant.
If police have to return to the rental property for a third time in a calendar year, the landlord is fined $50. For a fourth incident, the fine goes up to $100 and for a fifth incident the fine is $500. For all further incidents in a calendar year, the fine is $1,000 per incident. If the fine isn't paid, it is added to the property's tax bill and becomes a lien on the property.
Richards said the new law was developed by the Town Board and Town Attorney Michael Risman. The Town of Cheektowaga is considering a similar law.
Richards said he owns rental property and includes a crime-free provision in the lease, which avoids a long eviction process.
"All it takes is one troublemaker in the neighborhood and the whole neighborhood goes down," he said.
Councilman Robert Clark said problems occur in all areas of the town and often involve absentee landlords, some who don't even live in this country, who don't care what is happening as long as they get their rent.
"It's not fair to the people around them who invest in their homes," he said. "This is a great law."
The board also passed its $7.1 million 2012 budget with no hesitation. That budget is down $270,064.49 from the $7.3 million budget for 2011.
Richards said the reduction was made possible with savings in health care, elimination of the tax collector position and paying down some debt, as well as holding the line on increases.
Last year, the tax rate was $5.03 per $1,000 assessed value for homeowners and $8.71 for non-homestead. For 2012, the residential rate drops by 5 cents to $4.98 and the non-homestead rate goes up 5 cents to $8.76.
Taxes to be collected for 2012 drop $12,140.99 from the current year to $2,065,976.28.
Richards said the budget's general fund, which is funded by sales tax, goes down $232,519.25 for 2012 due to an anticipated shortfall in the town's share of the sales tax due to population loss found in the last census.
Councilman Marc Carpenter gave special thanks to Richards for preparing the budget.
"For the last 16 years, he has provided the Town Board with a very realistic, lean, well thought out budget. There's very little we have to do to modify the budgets presented to us," Carpenter said. "He saves us a lot of money by not having to hire a budget officer and doing it himself."
In other matters:
•The board approved a resolution to increase the minimum water and sewer bill to $20 per quarter and increase every other water and sewer tier by 5 cents per $1,000 assessed value as of Jan. 1, to reflect the increased cost to the town for these services.
•The board tabled two resolutions dealing with a final site plan for the old Walmart property at 5555 Porter Road. The resolutions were submitted for Daniel J. MacDonald of T.Y. Lin International.
Clark asked if the work was being done on behalf of Walmart. When it turned out that it was for Walmart, the board decided that despite the fact the site plan was well done, the resolutions would be tabled because Walmart is suing the town for further lowering of its assessment of the property.
Richards said the case reneges on the three-year assessment agreement Walmart already has with the town, which lowered its assessment from $2.4 million to $1.8 million.
The second resolution would take 2.2 acres from the original 15.09 acres and add it to the Sam's Club property next door, also owned by Walmart, so the entrance on Porter Road could be revised.
•The board approved payment of $25,133.69 to CRA Infrastructure and Engineering for design work on the new volleyball and bocce courts and horseshoe pits at Veterans Memorial Park.
•The Town Board has a moment of silence at each meeting for residents who have died in the past month. Among those listed at this meeting was James W. Hescox Sr., who died Nov. 7. Hescox was a former Town of Niagara councilman and a former chief of Niagara Active Hose Volunteer Fire Department.
•The board will hold workshop meetings on Dec. 1 and 8 and its next regular meeting at 7 p.m. Dec. 13, when a public hearing will be held on rezoning property at 2600 Young St., from PR (parks and recreation) to B1 (business).