Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

What to do about absentee landlords and overcrowding discussed at Council

Thirty+two+people+were+living+in+this+three+family+house+when+firemen+arrived+on+November+28%2C+2023
Thirty two people were living in this three family house when firemen arrived on November 28, 2023

Despite a 15-year old law on the books of the city’s code  requiring property owners to register their rental units, officials are considering a rental registry system with certification to get a better handle on absentee landlords, overcrowding and neglected properties. 

Acting Corporation Counsel Michael Hartmam gave a presentation to council members during the work session of Monday’s Common Council meeting. “This is a more robust way of addressing our rental market,” Hartman explained. “We can use it more effectively to enforce our code and we can turn our rental market into one where we can regulate the worst actors and incentivize the best players in the market.The goal is to get the properties to comply and it keeps the landlords accountable.” He referenced the cities of Hempstead on Long Island and Buffalo that had such a registry in place.  

In Peekskill’s code, it states that the city recognized the need for a registry after being unable to quickly contact property owners/managers, deeming it potentially hazardous in emergency situations. 

Licensing is important, Hartman said, because it allows the city to understand the rental housing stock and be aware of houses that may put segments of the population in danger of losing their homes. “It allows us to collect information that we can do a whole lot with.” 

Hartman said the city would have to set up a database and issue certificates. Property owners or landlords would then be licensed under this program. Certificates can be transferred with the property if ownership changes. 

He told council members that such a registry or licensing could be tied into court proceedings that would limit a landlord’s ability to collect back rent if they weren’t registered.  “It creates an incentive for landlords to comply with the code, sets a baseline for tenants with regard to safety and habitability.”

He added that the properties registered would be initially inspected and the city would have a set of circumstances that would allow for the properties to be re-inspected. He stated that complaints, abandoned property, unpaid taxes or excessive exterior violations are all being used as means for inspection by other municipalities. 

“The ultimate goal of this is to get these properties to comply with regards to [the] number of people occupying the various units – it creates a proactive way for landlords to report and it keeps the landlords accountable.” 

In response to Hartman’s presentation Councilwoman Kathie Talbot said what Hartman was describing sounded complicated and wanted to know how long it would take to implement. “In the meantime, is there any way to use what’s on the books right now to address the issues we’re facing?”   

Hartman responded saying Peekskill could implement fines but noted that Hempstead put a registration ordinance in place. Hartman then handed out to council members copies of the two laws from other municipalities.  Mayor McKenzie asked council members to read the documents and come to the next Committee of the Whole meeting on Jan. 16 ready to discuss. 

An example of a rental registry for a municipality can be found at Policylink.org.  A rental registry is a system that requires property owners to provide up-to-date contact information of key individuals (ex. property owner and property manager) involved with the management and maintenance of the property, and an emergency contact who can be contacted 24 hours a day. 

Cleanup Peekskill 2024 statistics

In other business at the meeting, City Manager Matt Alexander addressed “Cleanup Peekskill 2024”, a new initiative that hopes to tackle overcrowding and littering – prominent issues facing Peekskill. 

Alexander shared last year’s clean up efforts. He stated that the DPW was able to collect 1,500 buckets of street litter, the city increased ticketing fines for property maintenance by 20 times the level over 2022, the city was able to fix a total of 354 street lights (the normal amount is 15 to 20 per year), there’s been an increase in park, walk, and talks by police officers, new lighting was added in many locations, the city hired an experienced code enforcement officer. 

The DPW combated graffiti by returning to frequently vandalized areas and repainting, 127 shopping carts were picked up, and citations and tickets for quality of life offenses increased by 19 percent over 2022.

Abandoned shopping cart on a residential street in Peekskill. The city manager reported that 127 of them had been picked up by the city in 2023.

In addition, Alexander informed council members that the city started a fire inspection program, but admitted the city is having a tough time finding a fire inspector. He believes the vacancy will be filled within the first quarter of this year.

But he noted that you could walk through or drive through Peekskill and still find litter. “What we know is that this has to be an activity that we take on with all citizens and stakeholders in the city of Peekskill,” said Alexander. He added that the city will be launching educational campaigns in regards to the city’s expectations and laws. Brochures will be published on the city’s website sometime this week. 

Alexander also informed the council the city would be meeting with Caring for the Hungry and Homeless of Peekskill (CHHOP) sometime during the week and will be joining elected officials, at the state and county level, in support of CHHOP and their mission.

Mayor McKenzie responds to citizens 

The controversial proposed cluster residential development project at 1130 Frost Lane has stirred online chatter, with many residents calling for Mayor Vivian McKenzie to get involved and voice her opinion to the planning commission. During the work session Mayor McKenzie acknowledged comments on social media, adding she had received a note at her door.

Statement from McKenzie to the public: “As the mayor and council [member], there are certain restrictions, that once we take office, we have to abide by. For me, I know that there is a project that is going up on Frost Lane and I do live on Frost Lane and the project is directly in front of my home but as the mayor, I cannot attend planning meetings, I cannot give an opinion, I cannot do any of those things. I couldn’t attend the planning meetings for my own building and project that is going up. I had a note that was left on my door, telling me to ‘Please come to the planning meeting’ and that I have to participate. Unfortunately, I cannot do that. It’s not that I am ignoring you but as the mayor I cannot attend those meetings”

Tuesday’s planning commission meeting, which had this proposed project up for discussion, was postponed to Wednesday, January 24th.

Resolution passed on social services offered to residents

At the Common Council meeting, a resolution passed that authorized the city manager to sign a memorandum of understanding with Choice of New York. According to the city’s online memo, Choice of New York (CHOICE) is seeking to provide community benefit programming in Peekskill at no financial cost to the city. The services they would offer are: resume, job interview and other employment assistance services, support and assistance completing applications for various social services, Medicaid, Food Stamps (SNAP), and other public benefit programs, an on site health care liaison, housing support and assistance, life skills training, immigration support systems, and credible mentoring services. 

Choice of NY opened their Peekskill location in 2019, located at 1 Park Place. 

Choice of NY will be present in the Neighborhood Center three days per week, beginning February 1.  Johnathan Zamora, nutrition site manager, told council members that specific days are currently being discussed.

Appointment of Acting Corporation Counsel

Council members finished their 6-item agenda with the passing of a resolution that appointed Michael P. Hartman to the role of Acting Corporation Counsel. Hartman will receive a stipend of $1,730.77 per bi-weekly pay period in addition to his regular salary.

The position of Corporation Counsel became vacant on November 3, 2023, last served by Timothy Kramer. 

Mayor McKenzie ended the council meeting by sharing condolences, on behalf of herself and the council, to the Peekskill Police Department who recently lost K-9 Charlie. 

 

About the Contributor
Peekskill native Jeffrey Merchan is a 2022 graduate of Peekskill High School. He is the Collegiate Journalist at Peekskill Herald, funded by a grant from the DJ McManus Foundation. He is currently enrolled at Westchester Community College where he is studying journalism. As the inaugural recipient of the McManus grant, he will be covering city government, schools and feature stories with a focus on Peekskill’s growing Hispanic community.