Code problems and police calls at multifamily buildings are the heart of the justification for Middletown’s “amortization” law.
Citations for code violations at multifamily buildings in Middletown have almost tripled since 2009, according to a report by Assistant Corporation Counsel Alex Smith, although police calls have dropped a bit.
Like with most statistics, their interpretation and significance depends on which side of the fence you’re on.
The law, which would phase out over 100 multifamily homes three years after it passes, says “it is common knowledge amongst City officials that there are far more code and police issues with multiple dwellings than there are with single and two-family dwellings, as verified by the Assistant Corporation Counsel in his 20 years as prosecutor in City Court.”
It then goes on to cite the report Smith did in July, which says all of the 125 buildings on the city’s list to be amortized have had code violations since summer 2009, with an average of 247 violations a year total. In the 14 years before 2009, they averaged 91 a year.
Smith’s report says that police calls have gone down from an average of 594 a year for all these multifamily dwellings before summer 2009 to 510 a year after. The report says innocuous police calls, like traffic and dog complaints, missing persons and medical problems, were not counted.
In an interview last week, Smith said the increase in code violations is because the buildings themselves are in worse shape than before.
“(With the) downturn in the economy, people don’t have money to fix them up, and yes, we are going after them aggressively,” he said.
He said a high number of code and police problems are inevitable at the properties in question.
“It’s the usage,” he said. “It’s putting a lot of people in one place in neighborhoods where they don’t really belong, and that’s the real purpose of the amortization law.”
Landlord Melvyn Edelhertz, who owns three multifamily buildings in Middletown, said at Monday’s public hearing on the law that the number of violations is irrelevant — the city can deny a rental permit to nuisance properties, and they haven’t done that to the buildings in question, which means violations are getting corrected.
“Which means the city acknowledged they’re not a nuisance and (in) full accord with city and state programs,” he said.
Ed Collins, who owns two three-family homes, said he corrects any problems promptly, and that the city should work with landlords.
“I understand the concerns,” he said. “But none of my tenants, and I say this in all honesty, are involved in any type of objectionable or undesirable behavior.”
Penny Thelman, Director of Housing Development and Grants for the Regional Economic Community Action Program, suggested the increase in violations since 2009 showed that the amortization law itself was not working.
Alderman Joe Masi, who voted against the 2009 law, had the opposite interpretation. In 2009, he said, the landlords he talked to told him they would take care of problems at their properties, but the numbers showed they hadn’t.
“It’s tough now, looking at what’s happened in four years,” he said. “And the excuse is you can’t control your tenants? That’s exactly what you’re supposed to do is control your tenants. … We as a Council have to look out for the entire City of Middletown.”
The law was originally passed in 2009, but the city is trying to pass it again because a court struck it down on technical grounds in June. It would phase out multifamily homes in most residential zoning areas, although some would be allowed to stay another five years if they get an extension, and others could stay permanently if it would be “structurally unreasonable” to convert them.
Two-family homes would still be allowed. Commercial areas like downtown aren’t affected; most of the affected homes are in areas just outside of downtown (like on West Main Street, East Avenue, Washington Street, Linden Avenue), and in residential areas of the 1st Ward.
The city is accepting written comments on the law until Aug. 13.