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Should renters be allowed to refuse entry to city inspectors?

Right of refusal 

Legislation that would let some renters in the City of Rochester refuse access to city inspectors seems to be going nowhere fast. The legislation is opposed by many of the city's neighborhood associations, says Gary Kirkmire, director of inspection and compliance services for the city.

On rare occasions, tenants — usually citing privacy or property rights — refuse to grant access to the inside of their properties, he says, sometimes even after the city has gotten warrants. The inspections, which are essentially for code violations, are required in order for the property to receive a Certificate of Occupancy or for periodic renewal of the certificate.

The legislation would apply to a small number of properties, and there would be a long list of requirements in order to be eligible for a waiver. For example: the property must be a single-family dwelling; no children under age 6 can live there; and the property must pass a private lead clearance test.

City Council member Carla Palumbo says that the waivers might be useful to save time and to conserve the city's limited resources. Currently, the city's only option when people refuse access is to take them to court. (The legislation has been tabled by City Council's Neighborhood and Business Development Committee, which Palumbo chairs.)

Mary D'Alessandro, president of the New York State Coalition of Property Owners, supports the legislation. People should have a say in who is allowed into their homes, she says.

"You think people from the suburbs want people going through their homes?" she says. "So why do we need to do it in the city? We need to start treating people with respect. Just because you pay a mortgage doesn't mean you're smarter than someone who pays rent."

Some people are concerned that, if the legislation passes, landlords could pressure their tenants into applying for inspection waivers. D'Alessandro says that if that happens, you should move.

"That is the best means of getting landlords to clean up their acts," she says, "because they won't be able to rent [the property]."

Some people have expressed concern, too, about student housing, especially in the neighborhoods around the University of Rochester. But Kirkmire says that the city has tools for dealing with student housing issues outside of the Certificate of Occupancy process.

Palumbo says she understands the privacy argument around inspections, but the fact remains that there are a lot of houses in the city that are unlivable. It's a balance, she says.

Still, Palumbo says she will not pull the legislation out of committee until the community is satisfied.

"And as far as I can tell right now, they're not," she says. "It may not be worth changing a law for this small handful of houses that fall into this narrow category. Right now, I have no plans of pulling it out."

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