By PHIL NOBILE
Without much progress or debate since it was initially proposed in April, a law requiring the majority of rental property owners to register emergency contact information with Harrison was tabled after vehement disapproval from some Town Council members.
After more than two months without any new discussion, the landlord registry law was briefly opened up for a public hearing at the June 19 Town Council meeting only to be immediately closed and the proposed law denied approval by any of the five Town Council members.
Hoping the law would be “tabled infinitely” after being proposed again for the second time in five years, Councilman Stephen Malfitano, a Republican, said the law had practical problems and, overall, went too far.
“It was well intentioned, but it was an overreach,” Malfitano, a former Harrison mayor, said. “I don’t think there was much purpose behind it to begin with.”
Village Attorney Jonathan Kraut drafted the proposed law, which would have required owners of two-family rental properties and larger in Harrison to register their properties with the town’s Building Department which would then be compiled into a database easily accessible for public safety officials in the case of emergency situations.
“We would have had a record and easy way to get in touch with a responsible person in connection with every property rented in town,” Kraut said, citing Mt. Kisco and Port Chester as having had success with similar laws.
The law was heavily contested by members of the community and council members when it was originally introduced at the April 1 town council meeting.
It was the potential steep fines for not registering—a civil penalty in an amount no less than $250 and not to exceed $1,000 every day of violation, according to the language—that caused concern from the community, as well as those to whom the law would actually apply.
Building Inspector Robert FitzSimmons, who was in support of the law due to “past emergency situations,” initially said the law must apply to all rental properties in the town. He cited a specific incident earlier in the year in which a two-family home flooded due to a faulty pump and there was “no way” to get in touch with the property owner to alleviate the issue.
FitzSimmons said a lot of properties are “buried in corporations or have absentee landlords” with no way of contacting the proper owners.
Some members of the community agreed.
“Safety is an issue for everybody, not one group of people,” Vito Faga, Jr., a former Harrison Fire Department chief, said. “Emergencies concern everybody across the board: all homeowners, one-family rentals and more.”
Also proposed in 2009 but shot down for similar reasons, the law remains stalled in Harrison. According to Malfitano, problems with jurisdictional authority when imposing possible fines on property owners who lived elsewhere would have arisen as a result of the law. He said despite the claims of FitzSimmons and Kraut, there were only “a handful” of instances in which a property owner couldn’t be reached, and that instances of trying to locate a property owner or entity in the past 10 years can “be counted on one hand.”
“Almost always we can locate people involved, and if we’re trying to penalize a landlord who doesn’t live in Westchester for a violation, we have no ability to reach that person,” Malfitano said. “The practical issues that make this law an overreach.”
Malfitano said jurisdictional issues restrict the town from issuing summonses or fine property owners or corporations that do not reside in Harrison or New York. He said in the past such fines have been simply ignored.
“We hold no authority on residents depending on where they reside, and we can send something in the mail, but they don’t need to respond to it,” he said.
Councilwoman Marlane Amelio, a Republican, echoed her colleague’s sentiments.
Despite being in favor of the law initially, Amelio said it was public backlash against it that swayed her opinion on the matter, and that the supposed incidents cited by FitzSimmons were “minimal.”
“Should information be received where this has become a dangerous issue, then we may have to revisit it,” she said. “I’m always open to reviewing matters and making changes to them, but at this point, judging by the community reaction and what the possible outcome is, and the positives and negatives are, I don’t see enough positive information that would result from imposing this required information.”
Amelio said she is confident the same information could be gathered from tax information on property owners instead, adding owners are on tax rolls and necessary contact information should be able to be located.