Niagara Gazette

Local News

March 8, 2013

Rent reform pitched


Niagara Gazette — Social Services Commissioner Anthony Restaino said the unable-client finding system is employed, but not always to requesting landlords' satisfaction.

Landlords may ask for a finding after a tenant/welfare client has not paid rent for two months. Social Services staff examine the circumstances around non-payment and try to get to the bottom of why the client didn't pay rent. If staff find that the client had an "extraordinary circumstance" — a financial emergency, such as an unexpected bill, or deficient living quarters that the rental property owner would not address, for example — then they would not deem the client unable to handle money responsibly, according to Restaino.

Niagara County Social Services works with landlords on tenancy issues however it lawfully can, Restaino said. His agency is one of the few in New York state that requires clients to give their landlords 15 days advance notice of intent to vacate rented quarters. That policy helps landlords get apartments rented out more quickly, without a month's loss of revenue, and it's one product of the meetings that Restaino had with landlords every so often over the past 13 years, he said.

The unable-client regulation doesn't really help landlords, Pascoal said. LAGN members didn't even know about it until a few weeks ago, when Copelin, the county legislator, told them. In any case, he added, "it puts an onerous burden on the landlord. You have to make the request, but it's two months minimum before you get action, and it's not guaranteed anyway."

Pascoal said the association's direct-pay push isn't just about landlords wanting rental income. The larger issue is government's fostering of dependency and double standards of acceptable conduct, he said. How can it be that Social Services gets to decide whether a client was "justified" in blowing off their rent obligation? he said. A renter who's not receiving any government help has to make hard choices and live with them.

"This is so much more than landlords receiving money. It's that the values, the fabric of society has fallen apart," Pascoal said. "Welfare programs were designed to be temporary ... but look what's happened. Beds for the homeless morphed into cradle-to-grave assistance, for generations of families, it's gone out of control. ... It's time to re-look at this whole thing."

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