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Taking aim at problem tenants, landlords Training programs for both suggested

Neglectful landlords and disruptive tenants harm many neighborhoods, and a Buffalo lawmaker wants officials to look for new ways to target problem properties.

South Council Member Michael P. Kearns will introduce a bill at today's Common Council meeting that encourages the city and Erie County to work on a joint offensive. He cites a program in Rochester that requires some irresponsible landlords and problem tenants to undergo training in order to continue participating in social services programs.

Property complaints are among the biggest problems in the city, Kearns said, adding it's not always easy to pinpoint culprits.

"There's a lot of finger-pointing between tenants and landlords about who is actually causing problems," Kearns said Monday.

He wants local officials to study a property management program implemented by the City of Rochester and the Monroe County Social Services Department. Kearns said the program requires property owners with a history of housing code violations or police calls to go through landlord training.

He thinks many neighborhoods would see improved conditions if problem landlords were required to attend sessions that focus on screening tenants, recognizing signs of drug activity and the eviction process.

Likewise, Kearns said tenants who are prone to moving a few times a year, have multiple property damage claims lodged against them, or have been targets of repeated police calls would be required to undergo "basic life skills" training. They would hear talks on being responsible neighbors, effective parenting and perhaps even house-cleaning techniques.

The "hammer," Kearns said, could be the denial of social services benefits to problem tenants who refuse to attend training. Likewise, landlords who don't attend could be denied the ability to get rental payments directly through the county Social Services Department.

Kearns acknowledged such policies would need county approval. He plans to discuss the issue with Erie County officials in the near future.

East Side housing activist Michele Johnson, a community liaison in Buffalo Housing Court, says Kearns is on the right track. She said training sessions for landlords and tenants are already offered locally, but the program is voluntary.

"I'd like to see it made mandatory," Johnson said. "I think it would help cut down on the number of problems."

In order protect both landlords and tenants, Kearns said there should be inspections before renters move into dwellings. Kearns said Buffalo could snare state funding to help offset some program costs, just as Rochester did.

Another component would be the creation of what Kearns calls a neighborhood accountability board. He said the panel could help track housing problems and would involve block clubs, inspectors, law enforcers and other parties.

Kearns also wants the Law Department to review the legality of creating a tenant eviction database that would give property owners a new tool for avoiding problem tenants. He said there is currently no easy way for landlords to learn whether prospective tenants were previously evicted due to illegal activities or other problems.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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