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Law on run-down properties urged

OLEAN -- Members of the Clean Up the City of Olean Committee say run-down rental properties should not be tolerated, and they want the Common Council to pass an enforceable inspection law.

The committee, led by Council President Rick Smith, met for only the third time Thursday night in an attempt to find ways to improve the run-down appearance of neighborhoods and curb code violations by slumlords and absentee owners.

Several committee members complained that when homes fall into disrepair or foreclosure and are abandoned, they are then sold at county tax auctions to landlords who don't do any improvements before renting them out.

Smith made note of an ordinance in the Village of Allegany, where residential property transfers prompt inspections for a $35 fee before the structure can be occupied again.

City Attorney Dan DeRose told the group that a cursory inspection of porch railings, fuse boxes and other basic items would not be unduly burdensome.

"It does put a code person in a dwelling, and that's a good thing; it's a start, and a better-maintained privately owned dwelling will be a non-issue," DeRose said.

Jim Snyder, a Cattaraugus County legislator, said there are perhaps 100 properties coming up for auction by the county for nonpayment of taxes, keeping such run-down properties in circulation. He suggested a provision to require the county to bring the buildings up to code before the auction.

"Is there some way we can put the onus on the county to inspect and raise the level to the code?" Snyder asked, adding, "If you are not going to allow a landlord to sell without fixing it up, why let the county sell it?"

DeRose said he could not give an immediate answer, but most of the group's members, including five Council members in attendance, agreed that the general inspection requirement is a good idea.

Erick Laine, a local businessman and property owner, said inspections at property transfer would be a good first step to control the quality of the housing market.

Fire Chief Robert Bell, the acting code administrator, said he has a staff of two people who work mostly on inspecting new construction but said he is eager to have authority to inspect occupied housing and clamp down on violators. Currently, he is empowered to issue civil citations of visible property maintenance problems and only if violators fail to respond to warnings in a reasonable time.

In extreme cases, the city pursues demolition of condemned properties, but the budget for the 2008-09 year has already been spent on two dangerous properties.

On its Web site, the city has posted a four-page list of property maintenance complaints by address that details the status of cases opened since August.

Committee members said they will press the Council to adopt an inspection ordinance for property transfers, and several Council members said they will support it.

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