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A group of landlords took a major step Thursday toward standardizing rental housing practices in the city and influencing laws that govern landlord-tenant relations.

About 40 dues-paying members of the Landlords Association of Greater Niagara unanimously agreed to incorporate as a not-for-profit group during a meeting in Niagara Falls High School. They also voted unanimously to hire Robert M. Rubin, president of Business and Community Development Initiatives, as a consultant at $75 an hour, or $1,365 a quarter.

The group formed about three months ago over common concerns and grievances, in particular the belief that Niagara County Social Services policies do too little to make tenants on welfare accountable for property damage or paying rent.

Group leaders have met with Social Services officials, who are now entertaining a proposal to give landlords longer notice before tenants on welfare can terminate a rent voucher agreement.

Currently, such tenants may elect to terminate a rent voucher agreement within five days of notifying Social Services. The proposal would extend that to 15 days, giving landlords more time to contact tenants to determine if they have made other arrangements to pay their rent. Still other group members would like to see that notification period extended to 30 days.

"By law, a welfare recipient is supposed to give 30 days' notice, and we'd like to abide by the law," said Emma Chapman, the association's vice president.

In addition to assisting local landlords by drafting standardized leases and a data bank of tenants, group leaders have vowed to police their own to ensure that landlords uphold their responsibilities.

"The purpose of this association is to promote landlord/tenant responsibility in cooperative effort with local state and county officials . . . (and) to afford quality rental housing to all residents of our community. That's simply what our mission statement is going to be about," said association President Victoria Orzetti.

Members also heard from City Attorney Ronald Anton, who has agreed to offer the group his services pro bono. He encouraged the group to incorporate, noting that it would eliminate personal liability while enhancing the group's ability to advance its interests and present a united front. On the subject of creating a tenant data bank, Anton warned that questions posed to landlords that would be used by the group in assessing a tenant's past behavior as a renter would have to be carefully framed.

"As long as the question is factual and does not elicit a subjective judgment, we will have no problem," he said.

The data bank should be limited to assessing factual information such as whether a tenant paid his or her rent on time or whether that tenant has a history of moving frequently, Anton said.


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