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ABSENTEE LANDLORD FEE TO BE HALVED

Absentee landlords who own single- and double-family homes in Buffalo will see a new city fee cut in half starting in January.

The Common Council voted 8-1 Friday to reduce Buffalo's controversial rental registry fee. Mayor Anthony M. Masiello is expected to sign the measure.

The new fees, which apply to about 25,000 properties, have been a lightning rod since the first notices were mailed in January. Non-owner-occupied single homes must pay $20 annual fees, while doubles pay $40. Under the revised plan, the charges will drop to $10 for singles, $20 for doubles.

The revenue will be used to finance a long-stalled program that tries to make absentee landlords more accountable.

Some Council members wanted to abolish the fees, but they said the 50 reduction is better than nothing.

The only lawmaker who opposed the fee rollback was Council President David A. Franczyk, who fears the move will impede a program that he has been clamoring for since the 1980s. Franczyk said he sees no problem imposing a reasonable fee on people who make money by investing in single- and double-family homes, calling it a cost of doing business. He added that irresponsible absentee landlords have "wreaked untold havoc" in many neighborhoods.

"The fee is a small return on the devastation that they've caused," he said.

Inspections Commissioner Raymond K. McGurn reluctantly supported the reductions after opposing plans to abolish the fee.

Officials want to hire an aide to process a growing pile of registration certificates. Owners of all single- and double-family homes are now required to register with the city; only absentee landlords are required to pay the fees.

McGurn eventually would like to use some of the revenue to hire more inspectors. Under the program, inspections could occur when owners fail to register, owe the city money, or have repeated housing violations or complaints lodged against them. The effort is a watered-down version of a landlord licensing law that has been on the books since 1998 but was never enforced.

So far, $300,000 has been collected from about 8,000 non-owner-occupied properties. McGurn said the city is extending the deadline for paying the fees until May 21.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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