Niagara Gazette

February 9, 2013

GLYNN: Landlords seeking to change rent system

Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — A number of landlords fed up with the practice of doling out the shelter allowance funds for people on public assistance want a major change in the system.

Under the current setup, the landlords contend, they're getting the short end of the stick when it comes to the tenants making the rent payment. That's because the tenants have the option of a voucher system, stipulating that the rent portion of their public assistance go directly to the landlord or they could have the full amount forwarded to themselves. If they opt for the latter, it's the tenants' responsibility to pay the landlord. The records are replete with examples of late payments. Or no payments at all.

The Landlord Association of Greater Niagara is hoping that the county lawmakers will approve a resolution Monday night to provide for more accountability from those tenants. 

"This has nothing to do with picking on poor people or anything like that," said Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, minority leader in the Legislature and a sponsor of the resolution asking the state to change the system. 

The process is a loose arrangement. Landlords would prefer the direct payment, assurance the rent will be paid on time. What irks them is the welfare recipient can simply discontinue the voucher system even without notifying the landlord. (In a federal program with leased housing, the landlords are paid directly). When the recipients fail to pay the shelter costs, it doesn't take a nuclear physicist to figure out that the money is spent elsewhere. 

Bob Pascoal, president of the landlords' association, said the problem is compounded because even if the tenants are asked to leave, the eviction process could take upward of three months, adding financial hardship to the landlord.

Whenever the landlord vs. tenant issue is aired, people on the renters' side will argue that holding back the payment is the only way they can get the landlord to make repairs.

"That's absolutely not true," says Virtuoso, the veteran legislator who also is a building inspector for the City of Niagara Falls. "If we get a complaint in the inspections department, we're out there right away and if we find something in violation, we'll take the landlord to (housing) court."

If there are serious violations, he explained, the building could be condemned and the agreement with the landlord terminated, he added. 

Nearly 1,000 evictions were served in 2009-10, according to the records. In many instances, those same people simply approach another landlord to strike a deal. 

Pascoal seemed annoyed when it was suggested there are slumlords who know how to work the system to their own benefit. "If they are here (in the Niagara area), then let's clean them up," he said,. "(The association is) tired of being lumped in with them. If we're slumlords, then what's the city council? They rule over a slumlord city," Pascoal added.

On a larger scale, Pascoal noted, there's scant evidence that the original program to provide such public assistance has worked. Those prime goals: to create stability for a family; to reduce teenage pregnancy; to encourage people to develop job skills; and to promote the idea of a two-parent family.

Certainly there's little sign of stability when you see a 7-year-old boy crying as he looks at his toys and the furniture piled at the curb. Can a boy that age have coping skills?

As for the teenage pregnancies. The Falls has the second highest rate in the state, a recent study showed.

As for the proposed "two-parent family" approach, one landlord recalled the time he was inquiring of the whereabouts of a tenant.  "That's baby-daddy, you're looking for, He's up the street," the landlord was informed. As it turned out the man being sought was just "hanging out," staying at various times with three or four different women."

Where's the accountability there?

Contact reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246