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Thousands of absentee landlords who own single- and double-family homes in Buffalo will soon receive letters announcing the start of a long-delayed landlord licensing program.

For the first time, the owners of nearly 20,000 properties will have to pay a registration fee and file certificates that list contact information.

The city plans to send out letters in November explaining the new program. Fee invoices will be mailed several weeks later.

But the program is stirring controversy in City Hall even before it gets off the ground. The Masiello administration's hiring of David Gilmour, a laid-off city inspector, to run the new unit is facing criticism. Some are questioning his qualifications and his close ties to Inspections Commissioner Raymond K. McGurn. South Council Member James D. Griffin opposed Gilmour's appointment, saying it "seems funny" the administration wouldn't have tapped other inspectors with "more experience."

Council President David A. Franczyk, the lead sponsor of the landlord licensing program, is upset that lawmakers were left out of the loop as the administration picked Gilmour to head what Franczyk thinks could be a key tool for fighting blight.

"If done properly, this could save a lot of our housing stock," said Franczyk. "I don't know (Gilmour), but I do know that we need a real go-getter in that job -- not just a warm body. Maybe he's the guy, but we don't know that, because no one has been around to talk with us."

McGurn defended the mayor's decision to name Gilmour to the $44,431-a-year job, saying he has six years of experience as a building and electrical inspector.

McGurn bristled at suggestions that Gilmour's ties to a South Buffalo political club that McGurn heads influenced the hiring decision. McGurn claimed "personalities" are fueling controversy where none exists.

"We don't need a national search to hire someone to take a job that pays a thousand dollars less than what building inspectors make," he said.

Single homes that are not owner-occupied would be assessed a $20 annual charge, while non-owner-occupied doubles would pay $40. All homeowners would be required to obtain registration certificates, though owners who live in the properties would not have to pay a fee.

Several factors would trigger possible inspections, including owners' failure to register, other outstanding debts to the city and repeated violations or complaints. Officials are hoping the new fees will produce enough steady income -- up to $600,000 a year -- to justify restoring some inspectors' jobs cut in recent years.

Franczyk said the rental registry program won't be as strong as the landlord licensing law, which has been on the books since 1998 but has never been enforced. The original provision mandated inspections of all non-owner-occupied singles and doubles every three years.

"This program is what I call 'landlord licensing lite,' " said Franczyk, who has been pushing for such a law for over a decade.


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