Buffalo Housing Court Judge Patrick M. Carney knows how to get to the heart of a matter. Launching testimony last week at a public hearing on a proposed law, Carney flatly stated that problems with absentee landlords in Buffalo are "out of control" and endorsed a plan to license property managers. It's a good idea.
Licensing property managers, as Carney observed, would provide an accountability tool. "We have thousands of pieces of property owned by people in Utah, California, North Carolina, Pennsylvania," the judge said. By licensing the managers of those properties, the city would have a mechanism to encourage their attention.
There is a critical need for this kind of tool in Buffalo, where an excess of absentee landlords -- who may or may not care about the condition of their properties -- hire managers who may not do the work for which they are being paid.
The law being considered by Buffalo's Common Council would require managers who maintain four or more properties to be licensed.
Carney believes anyone who manages even one property should be required to be licensed. It's a fair question, but even the existing proposal would make for a dramatic improvement in oversight of troubled properties. If it doesn't work, the stricter measure could always be adopted later.
Some observers worry that a law such as this could have the opposite effect from the intended one, by deterring responsible managers from stepping in to try to improve difficult properties. Unintended consequences are a potential factor in just about any action, of course, but Buffalo has a real problem stemming from the number of absentee landlords. That's got to be the focus.
The city badly needs a law like this. With Carney's endorsement, the Common Council should be able to approve this measure quickly, and Mayor Byron W. Brown should be eager to sign it.
It's good to see Carney taking a keen interest in trying to improve the rental housing stock around here. He had big shoes to fill when replacing Henry J. Nowak Jr., a staunch advocate on the bench for decent housing and community development.
A News Outstanding Citizen of the Year recipient, Nowak issued hefty fines and worked with community activists in trying to create better neighborhoods.
The new housing court judge is already showing the kind of leadership on the bench desperately needed in parts of Buffalo.