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Proposed law aimed at landlords with delinquent properties

Landlords get direct public assistance checks for tenants on welfare. But many of them still own back taxes. Now, lawmakers are hoping a threat of losing money will serve as a wake-up call.
Syracuse (WSYR-TV) -- More than a thousand Syracuse rental properties are tax delinquent -- disturbing news for the city's rental watchdog.

"If a landlord doesn't have enough capital to pay their property taxes, then one has to worry that they're not going to have enough capital to make repairs and upkeep property for tenants,” said Sharon Sherman, Executive Director Greater Syracuse Tenants Network.

Sherman helps families leave unfit properties. The work takes a lot of time and money. Many of the cases involve low-income families that can't find affordable apartments that meet codes. For families on public assistance, rent subsidies may be paid directly to landlords. Sherman says the law allows the Department of Social Services to stop those payments if properties don't meet certain criteria. For example, if a home is deemed uninhabitable, rent payments can be withheld.

After reading a recent report by the Syracuse Post-Standard, Senator John DeFrancisco wondered why the same rules don't apply to landlords who are behind on their property tax bills.

"Two individuals had a series of properties and their real estate taxes were delinquent a million dollars, but they were still receiving checks from social services for the tenants that were entitled to that assistance,” said NY State Senator John DeFrancisco.

The Senator drafted a bill to allow welfare officials to withhold rent in cases where property owners are delinquent. After all, DeFrancisco says the push to send public assistance checks directly to landlords came from property owners, who were angry that tenants weren't using the benefits to pay their rent.

"What is good for the goose is good for the gander. So, if it is going to protect people from irresponsible tenants, if it is an irresponsible landlord, then they should not be getting rent from the state of New York,” DeFrancisco continued.

The legislation gives broad discretion to the Department of Social Services. Sherman has already seen some success when payments are withheld for codes violations.

"Sometimes the only way that social services or code enforcement gets the attention of the property owner is when they cut off the check,” Sherman said.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Social Services Committee for consideration.
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