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Lackawanna gets advice on registering landlords Effort aims at accountability by discovering shrouded ownership

Less than a day after unanimously voting to adopt a landlord licensing and registration program, Lackawanna officials set to work Tuesday on the details.

Several current and incoming City Council members conferred with the team in charge of Buffalo's program, which is wrapping up its first year and admittedly still has bugs to work out, according to David Gilmour, Buffalo's director of rental registration.

Lackawanna Councilman Ricardo Estrada of the 1st Ward explained the situation to Gilmour and his assistant, Michael Donovan, saying: "We were all having some difficulties with some properties. There was no accountability."

The two cities share the problem of out-of-town landlords or those with shrouded identities.

"We have these landlords that are hiding -- the post office boxes, the corporations," Estrada said.

Countered Gilmour, "We have people in Australia, in China."

Buffalo's year-old program applies to non-owner-occupied, one- and two-family homes. Though annual registration fees started at $20 for a one-family home and $40 for a double, the Common Council voted to cut them in half next year. Buffalo officials also are working to simplify their registration system.

Since 48,000 registration notices were sent out last January, the city has collected about $476,000, Gilmour said.

Beyond the added revenue, Gilmore cited "a health-safety issue. Tenants are living with wires hanging out and no heat."

Revenues go back into the program, he said, including efforts to develop a database of owners. To help track down landlords, Buffalo subscribes to Accurint, a locate-and-research service.

"The fee is minimal," Donovan said. "It's worth it, for what you're going to get out of it."

While eager to proceed with the program, Lackawanna officials still have much work to do. The Code Enforcement Department, which has one full-time officer and a part-time staffer, would administer the program.

"I think this is a tremendous opportunity to start protecting neighborhoods before it gets really bad," said Lackawanna Councilman-elect Geoffrey Szymanski of the 2nd Ward.

e-mail: jhabuda@buffnews.com

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