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West Seneca considers requiring landlords to obtain licenses

Residents on Jasmine Avenue in West Seneca noticed their new neighbors had a lot of visitors, but they didn't stay long.

The rental house — just a block from West Seneca West High School — had become a haven for drugs and drug addicts. In addition to other problems with the house, there have been three to four drug overdoses treated by emergency responders, neighbors told Town Board members.

As the opioid crisis erupts on this street and others, Town Board members are considering a proposed local law intended to target absentee landlords with nuisance properties.

"It originally came to us as a law enforcement problem," said Town Attorney John Fenz.

"If the landlords think the money is more important than the neighborhood, that doesn’t help us at all," said Councilman William P. Hanley Jr., who proposed the law.

West Seneca is poised to enact the law that will require the owners of rental property to register their names and keep a list of the names of their tenants, and provide the names to authorities if asked. Police could serve notice on the landlord to evict the tenants if the building becomes a problem property. Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn is one of those expected to speak at the town's public hearing on the proposal at 3 p.m. Thursday in Town Hall.

Under the proposal, the owner of one or more rental units must obtain a free license from the town. The law would not apply to one-, two-, three- or four-family dwellings where the owner lives in one of the units.

If a license is not obtained within 30 days of the law's passing, or if a license is denied, the owner is subject to a fine of $500 for each month he is without the license. If the fine is not paid, it would be added to the owner's tax bill.

The law is modeled on Cheektowaga's landlord licensing regulations, which were put in place in 2013. Cheektowaga Supervisor Diane Benczkowski said the law has helped the town keep track of owners of rental apartments. The fines that a landlord is subject to if there are drugs or other criminal activity at a rental property should give the landlord an incentive to get rid of the tenant, she said.

Cheektowaga is looking to add the licensing requirement to properties where an owner occupies one of the units, she said.

"This gives the owner a tool to evict the tenant," Benczkowski said.

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